By Freedom Newspapers
We have followed the plight of the Devil’s Hole pupfish, a rare creature confined to a single limestone cave in remote Death Valley, whose already tenuous existence has taken a turn for the worse since winning federal protection as an endangered species.
Unlike many listed species, the pupfish really is a rarity — the kind of animal for which the much-misused Endangered Species Act was designed. We’ve followed its travails because the creature’s plummet toward extinction has actually accelerated under the care of bumbling wildlife bureaucrats, making a strong case that the worst thing that ever happened to the pupfish was federal protection.
The fish’s prospects of being fruitful and multiplying were tenuous from the start. As far as science knows, they exist only in a single natural spring in remote Death Valley, so the fish has extinction written all over it.
They were on a slow decline, but holding their own, until 2004, when wildlife biologists doing a pupfish census left fish traps improperly stored. The improperly stored traps were washed into the spring during a flash flood and killed a third of the pupfish population. Desperate, federal officials moved some to a “refugium” near Hoover Dam, the Shark Reef Aquarium at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas and a fish hatchery in Nevada. The hope is to rebuild pupfish stocks with a captive breeding program, but even that effort has hit snails … sorry, we meant snags.
The pupfish had to be removed from the Hoover Dam refugium, according to a story published a few weeks back, after the tank became infested with invasive snails. How the invasion began is uncertain, but one theory is that the snails slipped in on nets used by federal caretakers. This isn’t necessarily a complete disaster for the pupfish. But they are never out of danger in federal hands.
In 2004, another endangered fish, the humpback chub, was nearly wiped out when federal officials agreed to release a torrent of water down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, an exercise aimed at mimicking the river’s natural spring flood cycle. It’s been estimated that 1,890 of 3,000 chub in the river perished in the deluge. Not much has been made of government actions that would land a company or private individual in court. Good intentions give the feds a free pass.
The latest setback for the pupfish came as a panel of scientists was putting together a plan to “reverse the decline of one of the most imperiled desert fish species in North America,” as one media report put it. But how about this for a rescue plan:
Put what fish remain back in the cave. Fence it off from the public and stop drawing attention to it. Remove the pupfish from the ESA, and order federal and state biologists to leave the poor little guys alone. Then, let nature take its course.