COLORADO SPRINGS — The Arkansas darter is a two-and-a-half inch native perch found throughout southeastern Colorado, Kansas and a few other states. On Oct. 6, 2016, after a 12-month finding, these fish were official categorized as “ not warranted” for federal listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, bringing some relief to more than 40 years of concern for the species.
Arkansas darter were listed as threatened at the state level by Colorado Parks and Wildlife in 1975, and through a collaborative effort with FWS and other state wildlife management agencies, were designated a federal candidate species in 1991. Candidate species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, are described as “having sufficient concern for their biological status but for which development of a proposed listing regulation is precluded by other higher priority listings.”
In 1994 (with recent updates) these status listings prompted CPW biologists to partner with the FWS and other wildlife agencies to develop an individual recovery plan for the species. The plan included ramping up conservation efforts, such as work with private landowners, habitat conservation, hatchery propagation, reintroduction and re-establishment of populations, and long term monitoring and research, among other actions.
“This ‘not warranted’ decision is a testament to the dedication and effort of many CPW staff over many years,” said Harry Crockett, CPW Native Aquatic Species Coordinator.
The decision was based on a recent status assessment of the Arkansas darter throughout its range in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Representative species biologists from each state, FWS biologists, as well as climate and hydrology scientists worked throughout 2014 and 2015 on assessing the species’ health, distribution and potential future.
“The Species Status Assessment Report for the Arkansas darter, and the FWS’s resulting 12-month finding was a superb collaboration between the affected states and the FWS,” said Vernon Tabor, Species Biologist, FWS; Arkansas darter assessment lead. “While the finding was solely FWS responsibility, we needed the excellent data, coordination and expertise we found in our state partners, including Colorado Parks and Wildlife. This allowed us to make our decision based on the most sound and recent science available.”
Threats to Arkansas darters still persist, as illustrated by their listing as a Tier One species in CPW’s 2015 State Wildlife Action Plan.
“Probably our greatest concern for the long term stability of Arkansas darters is specifically related to the future of water, especially spring water and headwater reaches, that provide good habitat on the plains of the Arkansas River Basin,” said Paul Foutz, Native Aquatic Species Biologist – CPW Southeast Region.
The darter occupy cool, clear spring-fed streams and seeps with abundant vegetation and feed primarily on invertebrates. The fish are found throughout the Arkansas River Basin, however populations are now typically isolated from one another. These populations are primarily found in the Big Sandy Creek, Chico Creek, Fountain Creek, and Rush Creek drainages, as well as several drainages north and east of Lamar, Colorado.
Historical records of Arkansas darters date back to 1889, but records were scant until a 1979-1981 CPW native fishes inventory of the Arkansas River Basin identified a far more widespread distribution of the species.
CPW will continue to make recovery and conservation of Arkansas darters a high priority.
“CPW is fully committed to continuing work to ensure that the species persists and fulfills its important niche in a fundamentally water-scarce region which is likely to become drier in the future. However, we, along with our partner agencies throughout the species’ range, can all be proud to have achieved the level of security and stability for the species that this ‘not warranted’ decision reflects,” said Crockett.
CPW is an enterprise agency, relying primarily on license sales, state parks fees and registration fees to support its operations, including: 42 state parks and more than 350 wildlife areas covering approximately 900,000 acres, management of fishing and hunting, wildlife watching, camping, motorized and non-motorized trails, boating and outdoor education. CPW’s work contributes approximately $6 billion in total economic impact annually throughout Colorado.