Bridget Moran/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
A small and geographically isolated species of fish found only in Lake County, Ore., may soon come off the federal endangered species List.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed delisting the Foskett speckled dace, located in the remote waters of the Warner Basin. The announcement comes after more than a decade of habitat restoration work with the Bureau of Land Management and Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.
Foskett speckled dace are a unique subspecies of speckled dace, a member of the minnow family. The fish grow only 2-4 inches long and live just a few years, spawning in the spring.
Chris Allen, a biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland, said Foskett speckled dace come from tiny Foskett Spring on the west side of Coleman Lake. A backup population has also been established at Dace Spring, about a half-mile farther south.
The fish were listed as threatened in 1985 due to declining habitat. At the time, the area was privately owned, overgrazed and used for irrigation water, Allen said. The BLM purchased the 161 acres around Foskett Spring in 1987, and since then the population has rebounded to more sustainable levels.
“In this habitat, at least, they thrive in open water,” Allen said. “That’s been one of the keys to recovery, is to create as much suitable habitat for this fish as possible.”
The population of Foskett speckled dace tends to fluctuate from year to year. Between 2011 and 2014, the numbers ranged from a low of 1,728 to a high of 24,888. Allen said the population was 4,279 last year in Foskett Spring.
With the proposal to remove Foskett speckled dace from the endangered species List, the Fish and Wildlife Service will enter a 60-day public comment period that closes March 5. Robyn Thorson, USFWS Pacific Region director, said the success of the Foskett speckled dace builds on other fish delistings in recent years, including the Oregon chub and Modoc sucker.
“These recoveries of native Oregon wildlife are great examples of how our long-standing commitment to working with local and state partners is paying off,” Thorson said in a statement.
Curt Melcher, ODFW director, also praised the effort, saying agency partnerships with the BLM and Fish and Wildlife Service were the key to success.
Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the Foskett speckled dace is the 37th species recovered under the Endangered Species Act, and said more will come with time.
“This is exactly how the Endangered Species Act is supposed to work,” Greenwald said in a statement. “The fish’s habitat was protected and threats removed, and now the dace has a future.”