US Fish and Wildlife proposes removal of Arizona’s state fish from threatened species list

Aug 14, 2023, 8:00 PM

PHOENIX — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed the removal of Arizona’s state fish from the List of Endangered and Threatened Species.

The Apache trout has been under the protection of the Endangered Species Act of 1973. In 1975, the fish was downlisted to the threatened list.

If delisted, it would be the first gamefish to be removed from the list, Fish and Wildlife (FWS) said.

Agency Director Amy Leuders expressed the trout’s recovery is a significant conservation milestone. Lueders said it’s a remarkable story to celebrate during the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act.

“The ESA makes a difference by bringing people together to find solutions to conserve and recover imperiled species like the Apache trout,” Leuders said in a press release last week.

What is Arizona’s state fish?

The Apache trout is native exclusively to the streams in and around the White Mountains in the eastern part of Arizona.

It used to be considered the same species as the Gila trout, which was listed under the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1967.

The Apache trout was first described as a unique species separate from the Gila trout in 1972, according to FWS.

What were the threats to Apache trout?

FWS said a major threat to Apache trout populations was the introduction of non-native trout.

Hybridization with non-native rainbow and cutthroat trout threatened the Apache.

Non-native brook and brown trout also posed threats through competition and predation.

Through conservation efforts, the introduced trout were removed from the Apache fish habitat and barriers were constructed to block further non-native invasions.

How were the Apache trout conserved?

The White Mountain Apache Tribe led conservation efforts.

The tribe collaborated with the U.S. Forest Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department and Trout Unlimited.

With this collaboration, Apache trout populations are rebounding.

The removal of outdated fish passage barriers will reconnect fragmented habitat and Apache trout populations, which will increase genetic diversity, FWS said.

The project is funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure law, which includes the 2022 Apache Trout Recovery Fish Passage Infrastructure Project and the 2023 Crooked Creek Route 55 Culvert Fish Passage Project.

These projects are led by the White Mountain Apache tribe, which is supporting the recovery process by replacing culverts, removing barriers and creating larger meta-populations of the fish by reopening access to over 60 miles of habitat, FWS said.

About the Apache delisting proposal

FWS said the proposal to take Apache trout off the protected list was preceded by a five-year review and 2021 species status assessment.

The assessment valued the species’ current needs, condition and threats.

Models of future scenarios were also included in the assessment.

More than 100 species of plants and animals have been delisted based on recovery or reclassified from endangered to threatened based on improved conservation status.

Hundreds more are stable or improving due to collaborative efforts, FWS said.

Conservation group opposes the proposal

Not everyone is ready to celebrate the possible delisting.

Robin Silver, co-founder of Tucson-based conservation group Center for Biological Diversity, said it’s too soon to strip protections for the Apache trout.

“Their habitat has been hammered by grazing and fires, and they won’t survive without the Endangered Species Act’s safeguards,” Silver said.

“Non-native trout and growing dangers from climate change also jeopardize the trout’s survival.”

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US Fish and Wildlife proposes removal of Arizona’s state fish from threatened species list