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Health, Science & Environment

Federal Agencies Are Ready To Loosen Protections On Certain Fish Native To The Colorado River

rapids of Colorado River in Utah
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The Colorado River’s flows and reservoirs are being impacted by climate change, and environmental groups are concerned about the status of the native fish in the river.

The razorback sucker fish could be downlisted from an endangered species to threatened in the next year or so, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This week, environmental groups sent the agency a letter in opposition to the move.

The letter argues the razorback sucker is still in trouble, despite recoveries it’s made in the last 30 years, which is when it was first listed as federally endangered. The fish is native to the Colorado River, which is facing historic shortages due to the west’s megadrought.

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Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The razorback sucker is a fish native to the Colorado River. Utah law classified it as protected in 1973 and it was listed as federally endangered in 1991 under the Endangered Species Act.

Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, signed onto the letter and said there are a lot of pressures on the fish, which has miles of critical habitat in Utah.

“The whole region is heating and the whole region is experiencing lower flows,” Frankel said. “These challenges, in combination with existing water diversions are burning the candle at both ends when it comes to the habitat of the razorback sucker.”

The USFWS proposed a change in the fish’s status because they said its situation has improved and threats to it have been reduced. Though, they said it will need to be continually managed.

The letter from environmentalists was submitted as a public comment on the reclassification process. A spokesperson for the USFWS said they received around 35 comments.

Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers program director at the conservation group WildEarth Guardians, said it’s “irresponsible” to downlist the species now.

“Until the ecosystem that they live in can support self-sustaining populations, we believe that those species should maintain their endangered status, which is the highest protection under the law,” she said.

The humpback chub, another Colorado River native fish, could also be downlisted. The USFWS proposed a reclassification last year.

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