Feb. 17, 2015 is a happy day for biologists Brian Bangs and Paul Sheerer. Today the Oregon chub, a tiny minnow that exists only in the Willamette Valley, is the first fish species to be officially taken off the endangered species list.
Never heard of it?
“The Oregon chub is kind of an underdog. Not very many people know what they are. Actually, a lot of biologists don’t know what they are,” says Sheerer, who works for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “They only grow to be about three inches long.”
Sheerer’s been dedicated to saving the humble minnow since it was listed in 1993, virtually his entire career. When he began, there were only about 1,000 individual chub left, anywhere.
“Likely, there were millions here historically,” Sheerer says. When the wide flood plain that characterized the Willamette Valley 150 years ago was tamed by upstream dams and drained for agriculture, chub habitat dried up with it.
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In 2005, Brian Bangs joined his ODFW colleague Sheerer and their small team of about a dozen folks worked with a huge variety of state and federal agencies, non-profits, watershed councils, conservation groups and even private landowners to bring the tiny aquatic craniates back from the brink.
They established protected rearing ponds to bring the fish’s numbers back up and then reintroduced them to habitat that had been restored to a more natural condition. But they had a big job.
“For delisting we needed 20 populations that had at least 500 fish that had a stable or increasing abundance for over seven years and they had to be distributed throughout the Willamette,” Bangs says.
In 2012, Bangs was crunching the numbers in his office and realized they’d made it.
“It was an emotional moment,” he recalls. “Things get onto the endangered species list and oftentimes, they’re not getting off the endangered species list.”
And today, the little-fish-that-could, did. For Brian Bangs, the unassuming fish’s victory is a sign of good things to come.
“I think the future for the Oregon chub in the Willamette Valley is really good and there’s a lot more people talking about habitat restoration these days than when the species was listed. A lot more people are aware of the kind of impacts that humans are having on the environment,” he says.