Critical Habitat Designated For Two Rare Southwest Fish

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On March 21, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services re-designated critical habitat in New Mexico and Arizona for the spikedace and the loach minnow under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Both fishes have been protected as threatened species under the ESA since 1986.

The Service designated 522 miles of rivers and streams and a 300-foot buffer extending from each bank as critical habitat for the two species. This includes portions of the Gila, San Francisco, Blue, Black, Verde, Lower San Pedro rivers and Aravaipa Creek and some tributaries in Apache, Gila, Graham, Greenlee, Pinal and Yavapai counties in Arizona and Catron, Grant and Hidalgo counties in New Mexico. Much of the mileage overlaps between the two species.

In New Mexico, 167.7 federal stream-miles, 1.3 state stream-miles and 82.5 private stream-miles have been designated. In Arizona, 170.4 federal stream-miles, 8 state stream-miles, 2.1 tribal stream-miles and 90.2 private stream-miles have been designated.

On Dec. 20, 2005, the Service proposed to designate 633 stream-miles as critical habitat. After completing a draft economic analysis of the conservation costs for the two fishes in the proposed area and receiving fisheries management plans from tribes and Phelps Dodge Corporation, a total of 110.3 miles of the Verde River, all tribal lands and Phelps Dodge holdings on Eagle Creek and the Gila River were excluded from the final designation.

The spikedace is silver-sided and the loach minnow is olive-colored (males are brilliantly colored during spawning) with upward-directed eyes. Both the spikedace and loach minnow are less than three inches long and require perennial streams, where they inhabit shallow water with moderate to swift currents. The spikedace and loach minnow are threatened by habitat destruction and introduction of nonnative aquatic species that compete with them. The occupied range of the two fish has diminished by an estimated 85-90 percent because of these threats.

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