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NFC: madtoms

Gravel Paves the Road to Recovery
Fish Tales: Good News About Native Fish
Feature News Release No. 3
March, 2000
Contact: Karen Miranda Gleason (303) 236-7905

Cats can be finicky, and so can some fish by the same name. Take the Kansas catfish, for example, known as the Neosho Madtom, a.k.a. Noturus placidus. These tiny toms (a big one might reach 2 inches) will only live in gravel bars and riffles; they love to burrow between the sand and pebbles during the day and roam like their feline namesake at night.

Found only in about a 200-mile stretch of the Neosho and Cottonwood Rivers, this gravel-loving fish historically inhabited about twice its current range, extending into Oklahoma and Missouri. Unfortunately, these cats don't have nine lives; as their prairie-stream habitat shrunk, so did their numbers. The species was listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as threatened in 1990.

Natural cyclical water flows, which create the riffle residences, have been restricted in the past century by 3 major dams and 13 smaller dams along the river systems in the fish's historic range. In addition, unrestricted gravel mining below the water removed many vital riffles, and sedimentary run-off from riverside towns packed down existing gravel, further degrading the limited habitat.

Thanks to conservation measures, however, and cooperative efforts by the Service, Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and gravel mining operators along the river, the population of this native prairie dweller has begun to stabilize.

The road to recovery for this stalwart fish has been paved by efforts to conserve its remaining habitat by limiting gravel mining to above the waterline and restricting non-point-source run-off that carries hazardous sediment into the river system.

"The key to recovery is maintaining or mimicking natural water flows, as closely as possible to historical patterns, and allowing only very limited gravel drenching," said Vernon Tabor, the Service's fish biologist covering the state. Tabor has been a primary member of the monitoring team that has been studying the Neosho Madtom at several sites since 1991.

An agreement reached in 1997 by the cooperators divided the river into designated sections, with the mining of gravel bars limited to a specific cubic-foot amount per year -- a level of activity that fish biologists determined would be compatible with recovering Madtom populations.

Since the agreement was implemented, gravel miners have complied with the limits and all mining permit requests have been granted. In fact, there are still additional mining permits available for some reaches of the river.

In the past, the Service's Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program worked with a gravel company and the State of Kansas to build artificial riffles to replace those that had been mined away. Built of crushed limestones and other small material, the replacement riffles have proven to be suitable habitat for the Madtom. These efforts may provide a blue-print for future riffle-building projects, according to Bill Gill, Project Leader for the Service's Manhattan office.

As the tough little Madtom fights for its survival as a species, perhaps it will prove that some of these cats really do have nine lives after all.

This feature news release is one in a series of "Fish Tales" communicating success stories about native fish conservation in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Mountain-Prairie Region, which includes the States of Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. Articles and photographs may be used and published freely, in whole or in part. These articles are also available on the Internet at http://www.r6.fws.gov/feature

Further information on this and other related topics can be obtained from the USFWS Region 6 External Affairs staff at 303-236-7905.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps State, Tribal, and foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state wildlife agencies.