TUCSON, Ariz. - Native fish in the Gila River basin are on the brink of
extinction and little is being done to help save them, according to a
study by a team of biologists.
Written by scientists from federal agencies, Arizona State University,
the University of Arizona and the Nature Conservancy, the 20-page
report said that Arizona's native fish population is under siege.
"Arizona is on a path to have all of its native fish go extinct unless
state and federal agencies start doing b rather than just talking
about b their jobs," said Leon Fager, a longtime endangered-species
biologist for the U.S. Forest Service.
The study of a dozen threatened or endangered warm-water fish in the
Gila River basin found that half of the species no longer exist in wild
Five species occupy less than one-fifth of their historic range, while
the Headwater Chub is found in 40 percent of its former range.
And despite a government-drafted recovery plan for the fish, scientists
said those plans aren't being followed or aren't working.
"Few successful recovery and conservation actions have occurred during
the 36-year period assessed," the scientists said, arguing that more
should be done to control nonnative fish.
The report's findings were publicized by Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility, a group that supports government
employees who work on environmental issues.
"The deteriorating status of these populations can be reversed, but
scientists are saying none of the steps promised are being taken," said
Jeff Ruch, the group's executive director.
The group says that at least 130 fish species in the desert Southwest
are declining and an additional 16 are already extinct.
In Arizona, more than 90 percent of riparian habitat is gone and at
least 100 species of nonnative fish have been introduced, the group
But Jeff Humphrey, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
said that although the joint study is a "fair assessment", he pointed
out that environmental changes and improvements happen over time.
"The current threats to a lot of these fish have been here for 200
years. To expect us to turn that around in a period of even a decade is
pie in the sky," Humphrey said.
The 630-mile Gila River starts in southwest New Mexico and meets the
Colorado near Yuma. Its basin drains most of southern Arizona,
including the Santa Cruz and San Pedro rivers near Tucson.
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