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Santa Ana Speckled Dace Imperiled by Dams, Drought, Climate Chaos 

June 16, 2021 - LOS ANGELES - In response to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the Santa Ana speckled dace, a small minnow native to Southern California streams, may qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The Service will begin a status review of Santa Ana speckled dace, which have been eliminated from three-quarters of their former stream habitats in Southern California by dams, water diversions and urbanization. Remaining dace populations are jeopardized by drought, wildfires, flooding, invasive species and rapid climate change.

Santa Ana speckled dace Paul Barrett USFWS FSanta Ana speckled dace. Photo by Paul Barrett, USFWS.

“Endangered Species Act protections would provide a welcome lifeline as Santa Ana speckled dace try to survive climate chaos and other threats,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center. “Fire, drought and reckless water policies have made life really tough for these little fish. We’ve already lost seven of California’s unique freshwater fish species to extinction, and we shouldn’t have to lose any more.”

The Center petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection for Santa Ana speckled dace in May 2020.

Santa Ana speckled dace inhabit the Santa Ana, San Jacinto, San Gabriel and Los Angeles river systems of Southern California. They prefer perennial streams fed by cool springs with overhanging riparian vegetation and shallow gravel riffles for spawning. These dace remain in small, fragmented populations in only about one-fourth of their historical range and are restricted mainly to headwater tributaries within national forests.

There are seven dams and numerous water diversion facilities on the Southern California rivers where the dace lives, causing depletion of stream flows and isolation of fish populations. Reservoirs and dams favor introduced species that prey on and compete with dace. Urban development, river channelization for flood control, and roads also degrade the dace’s habitat.

Background

Santa Ana speckled dace persist in Big Tujunga Creek and Haines Creek in the Los Angeles River basin; several forks of the San Gabriel River, along with its tributaries Cattle Canyon, Devil's Canyon, Bear Creek and Fish Canyon; Cajon Creek, West Fork City Creek, Plunge Creek and several forks of Lytle Creek in the Santa Ana River basin; and the North Fork San Jacinto River and its tributary Indian Creek.

Santa Ana speckled dace have been eliminated from most of the Los Angeles River basin, including tributaries Little Tujunga Creek, Pacoima Creek and Santa Anita Canyon Creek. They have also disappeared from most of the Santa Ana River basin, including the middle reaches of the Santa Ana River, and tributaries Mill Creek, East Twin Creek, Santiago Creek, Silverado Canyon, Harding Canyon and San Antonio Creek. Speckled dace no longer live in the San Jacinto River, South Fork San Jacinto River, or tributaries Herkey Creek and Strawberry Creek.

More than 80% of California’s native freshwater fishes are in decline, an indication of the degrading quality and quantity of freshwater habitats throughout the state. Thirty-three of the state’s freshwater fish species are formally listed as threatened or endangered, and seven native fish species have gone extinct.

Recent genetic analyses show that Santa Ana speckled dace are a unique and distinct subspecies, which likely should be designated as a separate species from other speckled dace.

Photo credit: Paul Barrett, USFWS

Source: Center for Biological Diversity