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Feds agree to deadline for endangered species listing of rare NV fish

The Fish Lake Valley tui chub, a small 5-inch fish, were once found at several isolated spring habitats in Esmeralda County but are now restricted to a single ranch spring in Fish Lake Valley due to habitat loss as a result of groundwater depletion. (Credit: Nevada Department of Wildlife)

Jeniffer Solis, Nevada Current
April 25, 2024

Federal wildlife managers Thursday agreed to decide whether or not to list a rare Nevada fish as a threatened or endangered species within the next year after failing to meet a federally required deadline.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to a court-ordered deadline requiring the agency to reach a decision on the Fish Lake Valley tui chub listing under the Endangered Species Act by May 17, 2025.

The Fish Lake Valley tui chub, a small 5-inch fish, were once found at several isolated spring habitats in Esmeralda County but are now restricted to a single ranch spring in Fish Lake Valley due to habitat loss as a result of groundwater depletion, which threatens to dry up the springs the fish relies on.

In 2022, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a one-year status review to determine whether the Fish Lake Valley tui chub ultimately qualifies for federal protection after finding credible evidence that groundwater levels in the valley have depleted, endangering the rare Nevada fish. 

The agency, however, failed to meet the 2023 deadline, opening itself to a lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity for violating federal law by delaying action on the imperiled fish, which are threatened by groundwater pumping in a region experiencing severe drought.

Groundwater pumping in Fish Lake Valley is done primarily to grow alfalfa, a water-intensive crop used to feed cattle and other livestock. Other possible threats to the tui chub’s water supply include proposed lithium mines and geothermal projects that have the potential to affect groundwater flow, say conservationists.

Thousands of acres in Fish Lake Valley are subject to mining claims, including claims under Ioneer, an Australian extraction company developing the Rhyolite Ridge lithium mine in the Silver Peak Range to the east of Fish Lake Valley.

According to the mine’s 2022 plan of operations, mining operations would consume about 2,500 gallons per minute of water, which equates to 4,032 acre feet per year. Ioneer notes that it eventually plans to source water for mining operations directly from the Fish Lake Valley and pump it through a pipeline up to Rhyolite Ridge.

As part of the agreement announced Thursday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will also be required to decide final endangered species protection by the end of the year for nine other species, critical habitat designation for three, and whether protections are warranted for two more species.

Those species include the Southeast alligator snapping turtle, the Suwanee snapping turtle in Florida and Georgia, Washington’s Mount Rainier white-tailed ptarmigan, New Mexico’s least chipmunk, and six species of Texas mussels.

“We’re suffering an extinction crisis that threatens to undermine our way of life, so I’m relieved these 15 remarkable species will get the protections they so badly need,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “From burly alligator snapping turtles to cute but ferocious martens, these are some of my favorite species and it would just be so tragically sad if we lost them.”

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: info@nevadacurrent.com. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Nevada Current under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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