Tribal Government & News

Tribe lauded for helping to get Oregon chub delisted

Dean Rhodes

Tribal efforts have helped get the Oregon chub, an inconspicuous silvery speckled minnow that inhabits the backwaters of the Willamette Valley, removed from the Endangered Species List.

State and federal officials announced on Thursday, Feb. 6, the Oregon chub will soon become the first fish removed from the federal government's list of endangered species.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Paul Scheerer said "the success is a remarkable story of cooperation between landowners, non-profit organizations and state and federal agencies that got behind the effort decades ago to ensure the species would not become extinct."

In addition to the state Fish and Wildlife Department, Scheerer acknowledged efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Forest Service, Oregon State Parks, the state Department of Transportation, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, municipalities, private landowners, watershed councils, the McKenzie River Trust and others.

Oregon chub are small floodplain minnows that live in sloughs, swamps, beaver ponds and tributaries. These habitats were greatly reduced by the construction of Willamette River flood control dams, channelization of the river for navigation, draining of wetlands for agriculture and development, and are prime habitats for nonnative game fish, such as bass and bluegill, which prey on the chub.

The chub was listed as endangered in 1993 when only eight populations totaling fewer than 1,000 fish were known to exist. It was promoted to threatened status in 2010. Twenty-one years after the initial listing, there are more than 80 populations and more than 150,000 fish known to exist.

"In contrast to high-profile species such as the Pacific salmon and the grey wolf, most of the recovery activities have occurred under the radar screen with little impact to the local communities," Scheerer said.

He said the Army Corps of Engineers managed flows and temperatures to benefit native fish, including the Oregon chub. The McKenzie River Trust identified high-quality habitats for land acquisition and the Middle Fork Willamette, Santiam and Long Tom watershed councils identified private landowners willing to enhance and protect chub habitats.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, state Parks and Recreation Department and Oregon Department of Transportation protected, enhanced and created habitat on lands that they manage.

Recovery also was aided by introducing the Oregon chub into 21 suitable, unoccupied habitats, many of which occurred on private lands.

"These help reduce the threat of extinction by expanding the species range and providing backup populations that can be used in the event of loss of local populations," Scheerer said. "This community effort is what made Oregon chub recovery possible."

Grand Ronde Fish and Wildlife Program Manager Kelly Dirksen said that Tribal Hydrosystems Compliance Specialist Lawrence Schwabe contributed to the effort by evaluating how the existence and operation of hydrosystem dams in the Willamette Basin affect natural resources.

"He regularly meets with the Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, NOAA Fisheries, ODFW and non-profits to weigh in on and influence the operation of these dams," Dirksen said. "The Natural Resources Department will have a larger role in the future with managing the Chahalpam property and the chubs that reside there."

Schwabe said the Tribe's acquisition of the Chahalpam property on the North Santiam River in 2013 made the delisting possible.

"The criteria to delist would not have been met without the protection and data from Chahalpam," he said. "The Chahalpam abundance estimate (2,430 chubs) met the criteria defined in the Oregon Chub Recovery Plan for delisting in 2013.

"The Chahalpam estimate is awesome. For nearly a decade in the mid-1990s, we were lucky to find a couple of chub at the site. The highest abundance estimate before 2013 was 700 in 2006. Without acquisition, the data would not have been collected and Oregon chub would still be listed."

Schwabe added that he participates in various forums that influence the Army Corps of Engineers' flow releases.

"The Tribe participated in the Nature Conservancy's Santiam River Environmental Flows Workshop that developed environmental flow recommendations for the North and South Santiam rivers," he said. "The Tribe also participates in the Willamette Action Team for Ecosystem Restoration Flow Team."

"Minor changes in the release schedules and volumes have had a notable effect in maintaining side channel habitats that are critical to chub," Dirksen said.

Scheerer estimated that the state spent $2 million, most of it federal funds, over the last two decades on monitoring, research and in-ground improvements to help the recovery effort.

The decision becomes final with approval of a plan for the ongoing monitoring of the Oregon chub. The plan was listed on the Federal Register on Feb. 6, which starts the required 60-day public comment period before it can be amended and approved.