PACIFIC REGION RECIPIENT OF THE NATIONAL RECOVERY CHAMPION AWARD
Left: Oregon Chub. Photo by Paul Scheerer
Center: Paul Scheerer. Photo by Alan Mauer
Right: Borax Lake Chub. Photo by Alan Mauer.
Paul Scheerer, a fish and wildlife biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, has dedicated his career for the past 15 years to the conservation and recovery of Oregon’s threatened and endangered fish species, including Oregon chub, Hutton tui chub, Borax Lake chub, Foskett speckled dace, and Warner sucker.
Mr. Scheerer first began his fisheries conservation work 27 years ago when he worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Wheeling, West Virginia, as a Fisheries Biological Aide. His first Oregon chub related publication, titled “Oregon Chub Investigations,” came out in 1992. He has been the key member of Oregon’s native fishes recovery and working groups since shortly after the listing of these fish species. His contributions have facilitated the development and implementation of various Fish and Wildlife Service programs, including listing, recovery planning, recovery implementation, conservation banking, and safe harbor agreements.
The Oregon chub is a small fish that is endemic to the Willamette Valley in western Oregon. It was formerly distributed throughout the valley in off-channel habitats such as beaver ponds, oxbows, stable backwater sloughs, and flooded marshes. It has declined due to multiple factors including habitat alteration by flood control projects and dams, introduction of non-native fish and amphibian species, and exposure to contaminants. The species was listed as endangered in 1993.
Mr. Scheerer has been the leader in the recovery efforts for Oregon chub. Prior to Mr. Scheerer’s conservation efforts the Oregon chub was on the brink of extinction. His conservation efforts, in collaboration with various Federal agencies, have increased the abundance and distribution of Oregon chub until they now nearly reach the criteria for downlisting from endangered to threatened that were established in the Oregon Chub Recovery Plan. He has helped the Fish and Wildlife Service create a number of new Oregon chub populations and helped establish the first conservation bank for Oregon chub.
Mr. Scheerer’s conservation efforts have resulted in the establishment of 11 Oregon chub populations. For example, Wicopee Pond was the site of a 1988 introduction of 50 Oregon chub from the Dexter Reservoir Alcove. In 2005, chub abundance at this site was estimated at 6,300 adults and the population has exhibited a stable 5-year abundance trend, a key measure of success in the Oregon Chub Recovery Plan. In 1996, Mr. Scheerer collaborated with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and introduced a total of 500 Oregon chub into the Fall Creek Spillway Ponds, located in the overflow channel below Fall Creek Dam on the Middle Fork Willamette River. After the introduction, the chub population abundance increased rapidly, until in 2005 the ponds supported 6,250 Oregon chub. This was the fourth largest Oregon chub population in 2005 and the population has exhibited a stable 5-year abundance trend.
Moreover, Mr. Scheerer has identified and evaluated 11 additional potential introduction sites. He has worked in collaboration with various federal (Finley National Wildlife Refuge, Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge), state (ODFW), local (Marion County), and private citizens to discover these sites.
In 2005, there were 20 populations of Oregon chub that totaled 500 or more individuals in the Willamette River basin, 8 of which were introduced. Three other reintroduction sites have been unsuccessful due to the illegal introduction of non-native species. At first these ponds responded with increased Oregon chub numbers, but after someone illegally introduced largemouth bass to the sites the populations crashed. These sites illustrate the continued threat that non-native predators pose to Oregon chub survival and recovery.
Mr. Scheerer has been extremely successful in contacting private landowners and gaining access to private lands throughout Oregon. His positive relationships with private landowners have led to discoveries of new populations, and in many cases resulted in successful fish restoration projects. Before proceeding with survey work in the 2006 season, he held a meeting for local landowners to attend and exchange information on the surveys to be performed. At the end of the sampling season, he again held a meeting to inform landowners of his sampling efforts and get feedback from them. He has also engaged in public outreach through the creation of informational signs about the life history of Oregon chub, and invited the “Oregon Field Guide” television show to do an interview and shoot footage about the conservation of the Borax Lake chub.
Mr. Scheerer has improved relations between the Service and private landowners by promoting Service programs such as the Safe Harbor Program. Mr. Scheerer was a leader in the development of the Russell Safe Harbor Agreement. Russell Pond is located on private land in the McKenzie River drainage. Mr. Scheerer introduced 350 Oregon chub into the pond in October 2001. By 2005 the population had grown to 810 fish. Mr. Scheerer continues to look for new Safe Harbor Agreement opportunities between the Service and private landowers. Mr. Scheerer engages private landowners in the conservation process and makes them feel a part of conservation. Because of his efforts the Fish and Wildlife Service is currently drafting two additional Safe Harbor Agreements, and is now in the process of developing a Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement for Oregon chub with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife as the permit holder.
Mr. Scheerer has also begun to carry his successes to other parts of Oregon. For the past several years, Mr. Scheerer has provided leadership in assessment of populations of Hutton tui chub, Foskett speckled dace, Borax Lake chub, and Warner sucker. Population estimates have not been done for these species for ten years or longer, depending on the species. The population estimates will serve as baseline information for detecting future population trends, and contribute to our overall understanding of each species' status, which helps to refine and prioritize recovery objectives and actions. The work is complicated by the remote areas, and difficult terrain, and the inherently high rates of fluctuation of the population sizes of these fish. Mr. Scheerer’s work on Hutton tui chub, Foskett speckled dace, and Borax Lake chub is in the process of determining the usefulness of various different population estimating techniques such as mark and recapture versus observational estimates using snorkeling techniques.
Mr. Scheerer is the very fabric of Oregon chub conservation. He does the work, identifies the need, discovers a way to fund the actions, includes the Fish and Wildlife Service in the process, and accomplishes conservation. He’s tireless, dedicated, and almost singlehandedly has pulled Oregon chub back from a strong endangered listing to almost a threatened listing. He has also been a leader in the conservation of Hutton tui chub, Foskett speckled dace, Borax Lake chub, and Warner sucker. He has dedicated his professional career to implementing conservation actions not because he is looking for credit but because it is what the resource needs. Additionally, he has been an invaluable resource to the Fish and Wildlife Service by providing us with information that is essential for us to carry out our mission.
Mr. Scheerer’s efforts have been a collaborative effort between Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife; the Refuge, Fisheries, and Endangered Species Divisions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; USDA Forest Service; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Oregon State University; McKenzie River Trust; Oregon Department of Transportation; Oregon Department of State Lands; the Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society; and numerous private landowners.
Paul Scheerer sampling Borax Lake. Photo by Alan Mauer, USFWS.
Paul Scheerer sampling for Oregon Chub. Photo by Peggy Kavanaugh, ODFW.