Tribal leaders and conservation groups – plus the California Department of Fish and Wildlife – have teamed up to help add protections for native Clear Lake hitch. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will not add the Northern California fish as emergency listed under the endangered species list.
Here’s the USFWS press release:
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced that it will not emergency list the Clear Lake hitch. The Service will continue to invest in projects that support the recovery of the freshwater fish while moving forward with its full evaluation of the species scheduled to be completed by January 2025. After considering the immediacy of the threats to the species, the Service’s review of the current situation of the species does not indicate that an emergency under the Endangered Species Act exists at this time.
“The Service is committed to helping the Clear Lake hitch regardless of its federal listing status,” said Michael Fris, field supervisor of the Service’s Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office. “We will continue to monitor the species closely and work collaboratively with partners on projects that contribute to conserving the species.”
While the species’ population numbers in Clear Lake are troubling, many of the issues affecting Clear Lake and its associated tributaries are chronic and have no immediate solution or need further investigation to determine an appropriate solution. The emergency listing provision is effective when there is a clear threat that can be addressed expeditiously by regulatory authorities and has only been used a handful of times in the history of the Endangered Species Act.
The Clear Lake hitch is a freshwater minnow that is found only in Northern California’s Clear Lake watershed, including Clear Lake and Thurston Lake. The minnow is an important species to local Tribes who historically relied on it for food. Habitat loss, degradation and modification, along with drought and poor water quality in Clear Lake have led to a decline in the species’ population.
The Clear Lake hitch is also found in smaller waterbodies within the Clear Lake watershed. Current data shows the hitch population in Clear Lake is declining, but the population in nearby Thurston Lake continues to successfully spawn and includes fish ranging in age from juvenile to adult. Hitch have also been reported in Blue Lakes.
The Service is funding several studies and working with local parties on a conservation strategy for the hitch. To date, the Service has provided more than $1.2 million in grants and other funding to the U.S. Geological Service and local Tribes for monitoring, research and habitat restoration projects related to the Clear Lake hitch. In April, the Service provided a $250,000 grant to USGS to support a mapping effort of streams and tributaries flowing into Clear Lake and identify where barriers to spawning hitch exist. This data will help the Service and other organizations prioritize efforts to remove barriers that impede the spawning activity.
The Service is also committed to completing a conservation strategy for the hitch in 2023. The strategy identifies goals, objectives and actions that are needed to improve the species’ habitat. It also addresses the issues that are impacting the Clear Lake hitch and the watershed, including drought and climate change . This strategy was developed alongside many partners, including Tribes, local organizations, and state, federal and local government agencies. The Service views this conservation strategy as a recovery plan and intends to complete and implement the strategy while completing the formal evaluation of the species.
The Service will issue a call for data on the Clear Lake hitch this summer. The data collected through this process will be evaluated and integrated into the Service’s assessment of the species. The agency is on track to complete its evaluation of the Clear Lake hitch by January 2025. If the evaluation indicates that listing the species is warranted, the agency will propose listing at that time.
For additional information about Clear Lake hitch collaborative recovery efforts visit: www.fws.gov/story/2022-12/collaborating-conservation-clear-lake-hitch.