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NFC: darter and sturgeon news from Konrad

Endangered Species Bulletin
July/August 2000

Vermilion Darter (Etheostoma chermocki) The small, brilliantly colored vermilion darter, a fish found only in a single tributary in Alabama, is nearing extinction because of habitat destruction and a decline in water quality. As a result, the Service proposed on April 18 to list this native species as endangered.

The vermilion darter occurs only in the Turkey Creek drainage, a tributary of the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River in Jefferson County. It needs free flowing streams with clear rock surfaces to survive and reproduce. Vermilion darters face many threats, including earthen dams and impoundments that have altered stream dynamics and reduced the species' range significantly, excessive sedimentation that has made its tributary unsuitable for feeding and reproduction, and other pollutants, such as excess nutrients, pesticides and other agricultural runoff that wash into the Turkey Creek drainage.

A local conservation group, the Society to Advance the Resources of Turkey Creek (START), recently received funding through the Service's Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program to minimize non-point source pollution of Turkey Creek. The Jefferson County Commission and START also have worked together to plan a nature preserve encompassing approximately 730 acres (295 ha) of the watershed. In addition, the Service has worked with the Alabama River Alliance and Alabama Environmental Council to promote watershed stewardship within Turkey Creek.

Final Rules

Alabama Sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus suttkusO The Service published a final rule on May 5 to list the Alabama sturgeon, a rare fish of prehistoric origins, as an endangered species. The decision was based on the species' small population size and inability to sustain a viable population. The Alabama sturgeon has disappeared from approximately 85 percent of its historic range in the Mobile River basin of Alabama and Mississippi. Only 5 have been captured in the last 4 years despite intensive efforts by federal and state biologists. This species was once so abundant it was caught and sold commercially. Biologists attribute its decline to over-fishing, loss and fragmentation of its habitat due to navigation-related development, and a degradation of water quality

Four listed aquatic species share the Alabama sturgeon's habitat and negative economic impacts have not occurred due to their protection. Current activities, such as navigation channel dredging, hydroelectric power production, agriculture, and silviculture, will not be stopped by the listing of the sturgeon.

Santa Ana Sucker (Catostomus santaanae) The Santa Ana sucker, once one of the most common fish in southern California, was listed as threatened on April 12. This fish historically inhabited small, shallow streams and tributaries throughout the Los Angeles basin. It is now restricted to small reaches of Big Tujunga Creek (a tributary of the Los Angeles River), the headwaters of the San Gabriel River, and the Santa Ana River in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties. The Santa Clara River population that exists in portions of Los Angeles and Ventura counties was not listed because biologists believe it is an introduced population.

Biologists considered the sucker a common fish only 30 years ago, but it has experienced a sharp decline and now is absent from 75 percent of its historic range. Because the species reproduces abundantly and tolerates a broad range of habitats, its decline is an indication of how badly the stream and tributaries of the Los Angeles Basin have been degraded from their historical conditions.

Threats to the species include water diversions, channelization and concrete lining of streams, erosion, pollution, recreational gold-mining with suction dredges, and the introduction of non-native species that prey upon the fish or compete with it for food or other resources.

All of the streams known to support the Santa Ana sucker have dams that isolate and fragment the remaining populations. Reservoirs have provided habitat for recently introduced non-native fishes that prey on and compete with Santa Ana suckers. Approximately 15 percent of the current range of the Santa Ana sucker is on U.S. Forest Service lands, including small portions within the San Gabriel Wilderness Area and the Sheep Mountain Wilderness Area of Angeles National Forest.

For more information on listed species visit the US Fish and Wildlife Service's Endangered Species Home Page <http://endangered.fws.gov>


   Konrad Schmidt
   1663 Iowa Ave. E.
   St. Paul, MN 55106