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Waters to Watch

Shoshone Springs, CA

DFHP 2015 Project

Shoshone pupfish are one of the most imperiled species in the Death Valley region due to their natural rarity, historic disruption of their habitats, lack of replication of the one remaining population, and genetic effects of small population size. Shoshone Spring and wetlands have been owned by one family for over 50 years. Endemic Shoshone pupfish were considered extinct by 1969, but rediscovered in a ditch near the springs in 1986. A single pond was built and stocked with 75 of these fish, believed to be the last of their kind. The purpose of the project was to construct two new additional habitats, one secluded in a mesquite bosque, and one in a landscaped tourist area. The project secured the existence of Shoshone pupfish in their native range far into the future, and will educate the public about their importance. The project quadrupled the habitat area occupied by endemic Shoshone pupfish, benefiting the entire known population in the one spring, springbrook, and spring supported riparian system where they naturally occur. The long term extinction risk of Shoshone pupfish due to stochastic factors is greatly reduced by spreading the risk among three populations, instead of one. Cumulative loss of genetic diversity due to genetic drift will be slowed or arrested by increasing the population size. Creation of a pond suitable for public viewing and interpretation in an existing ecotourism area has the ancillary benefit of promoting public and business support for conservation of pupfish, wildlife, and the environment. The pond also benefits riparian birds, waterfowl, and neotropical migrant birds. There is now a series of ponds along the original stream leading to the Amargosa River where the first pupfish were found. It also includes a pond in a public area that is landscaped with native vegetation. Walking trails have been created to guide the public to view points, and interpretive signs will soon be placed around the pond to educate residents and visitors about the pupfish, its native habitat, the importance of sustaining all endangered species, and about biodiversity. In addition to being drawn by birding and ecotourism, visitors to Shoshone Village have begun to ask “where can I see the pupfish?”

Human Interest/Community Benefit:
The rural town of Shoshone is a Mojave Desert Community intentionally transitioning from a mining economy to one based on ecotourism. An abundance of natural thermal spring water makes this a literal oasis in the desert east of Death Valley National Park. Visitors are drawn for the birding, scenery, geology, cultural history, and to experience remote wilderness and the Wild and Scenic Amargosa River Corridor. Many of these visitors are from Europe or southern California, and have no idea there are fish living in the desert—much less have seen any. As the word spreads more people are deliberately travelling to Shoshone to sightsee for pupfish. Purposeful and casual pupfish visitors alike are inspired by the story of a manifestly successful rescue of a species from near-extinction.

Project Timeline: Project was completed in spring 2014

Economic Calculator results:
Jobs: 0.5078
Total Sales: USD 58,008.43
Value Added: USD 34,883.98
Income: USD 26,436.54

Partners: Desert Fish Habitat Partnership, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Shoshone Development Corporation, California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Muddy River, NV

DFHP 2014 Project

The Muddy River Ecosystem Recovery project is designed to recover the endemic Moapa dace (Moapa coriacea) and other native biodiversity dependent upon the Muddy River in southern Nevada. It is a basin wide recovery effort focused primarily on upstream portions of the river (springheads, springbrooks), but extending downstream nearly 30 km to Lake Mead. Moapa dace is a unique genus of endangered fish with the highest recovery priority possible (recovery priority 1c).

Other native species that benefit from this recovery include the Virgin River chub (Gila seminuda), which is an endangered species in the Virgin River (of which the Muddy River is a tributary), and three mollusks (Pyrgulopsis avernalis, P. carinifera, Tryonia clathrata) that were petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act and found to warrant further consideration for listing. The Muddy River also supports endangered southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus) and many other wildlife species.

Beyond the recovery goals detailed above, this project also builds trust among its many partners which helps facilitate other recovery efforts in southern Nevada and the southwest generally. As importantly, this project demonstrates the power of cooperation in achieving effective conservation progress at local and watershed scales.

The Muddy River is a major river in southern Nevada centered about 30 miles NE of Las Vegas (population of about 2 million). Many places of human interest exist along and near the Muddy River, including Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Warm Springs Natural Area at its headwaters, the towns of Moapa, Logandale, and Overton downstream, and many scenic destinations such as Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Valley of Fire State Park, and several established and proposed wilderness areas.

Although partners in the Muddy River ecosystem recovery project bring different values, motivations, and perspectives to the effort, their focus on the common goal of recovering the Muddy River helps to create consensus and support. Even a local newspaper (the Moapa Valley Progress) has consistently reported in a balanced fashion that helps create community interest and a sense of benefit, particularly as recovery progress has recently accelerated.

Two projects at the Muddy River have been funded at least in part by the Desert Fish Habitat Partnership: Apcar Culvert Replacement and Muddy River Stream Bank Habitat Rehabilitation. The Apcar project was completed in 2013 and now connects vital breeding areas (upstream) with holding areas (downstream) for Moapa dace. The Stream Bank Habitat Rehabilitation project was developed by the Moapa Band of Paiutes (a sovereign tribe) and is a 2014 DFHP project. 

Currently, a large portion of the lower reaches of the Muddy River and the associated riparian area are degraded due to historical river dredging, overgrazing and streambed trampling by cattle. In addition, invasion of Salt Cedar (Tamarisk) and Phragmites has replaced native cottonwood and willow vegetation. Implementing a stream bank stabilization project and habitat improvement plan along the Muddy River will result in improved fisheries habitat for the Virgin River chub and Moapa speckled dace. The Muddy River Stream Bank Habitat Rehabilitation project will entail removal of invasive species (Tamarisk and Phragmites) and stream bank restoration utilizing natural stream bank stabilization techniques (bioengineering techniques). This project is scheduled to be completed in May 2015. Outreach for this project will begin in March 2015. The Moapa Band of Paiutes will begin site tours and prepare brochures and training material for Tribal members and the public on the importance of the Muddy River and its critical fisheries habitat.

The Muddy River recovery effort received major national funding (>$800K) in early 2014 for chemical eradication of exotic fish plus some habitat restoration. This work should foster substantial recovery over the next 3 years (the implementation period) and beyond. Hence, the Muddy River will definitely be a “Water to Watch” this coming year and for the next several years to follow.

Partners: The partnership detailed below involves national, state, and local jurisdictions, plus many other entities that cooperate to recover the Muddy River ecosystem. While local attitudes about conservation are often mixed, successes in recent years at reversing the decline of Moapa dace plus other accomplishments have helped strengthen this partnership. Partners include several programs in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Ecological Services, Fisheries), Desert Fish Habitat Partnership, Nevada Department of Wildlife, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Southern Nevada Water Authority, Moapa Valley Water District, Nevada Energy, Moapa Band of Paiutes, Clark County, The Nature Conservancy, Coyote Springs Investments LLC (a development firm), U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Natural Resource Conservation Service, university academics, and private landowners.

Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuge (MVNWR) and Warm Springs Natural Area (WSNA) have volunteer programs focused on helping the public appreciate and understand the natural spring-fed ecosystems that merge to form the Muddy River ecosystem. Nevada Department of Wildlife also has a volunteer program that has involved Muddy River work on an intermittent basis. Several Eagle Scout projects were focused at WSNA. And the formal volunteer group Friends of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge offers public outreach events at MVNWR each year.

Balmorhea Springs, TX

DFHP 2013 Project

This spring system supports three endangered fish species and four species of concern. They are threatened by issues including complete dewatering, depletion of aquifers by groundwater pumping, conversion for agricultural or recreation use, and poor land management practices. Management of spring and ciénega systems requires a holistic, watershed approach with private, state, federal, and local partners to conserve, restore, and address threats to these important desert habitats.

Project Partners:
Desert Fish Habitat Partnership
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
US Fish and Wildlife Service
US Bureau of Reclamation
The Nature Conservancy
Dexter National Fish Hatchery and Technology Center
Reeves County Water Improvement District
Texas Department of Agriculture
Environmental Protection Agency
USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service
Texas Agricultural Extension Service
University of Texas at Austin
University of Texas – Pan American
Sul Ross University
Texas Department of Transportation
Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Educational Foundation of America
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
City of Balmorhea

Weber River, UT

DFHP 2012 Project

This project is intended to protect native fishes and improve water use efficiency for water companies in the Weber River drainage. It will re-connect 17.5 total river miles and allow native trout and sucker species to pass one mainstem diversion and two culvert barriers in two tributaries.

Habitat fragmentation is the primary threat to the persistence of the bonneville cutthroat trout population. These barriers have fragmented mainstem and spawning habitats. Restoring connectivity at these sites is a critical step towards improving the resiliency and genetic diversity of this population.

Trout Unlimited (TU)
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
Utah Dept. of Transportation

Myton Diversion Fish Passage (Duchesne River), UT

DFHP 2011 Project

The Myton Diversion, located approximately 43 river miles above the confluence with the Green River and does not currently allow fish to move from the lower reaches of the Duchesne River into the upper reaches of the Duchesne River.

A fish passage structure will restore connectivity between fish populations above and below the diversion, which will restore gene flow and migratory capabilities of the species and improve habitat.

The Myton Diversion Fish Passage project is expected to restore connectivity to populations of flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker, and roundtail chub existing above and below the diversion and to allow movement upstream for Colorado pikeminnow.


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Fairbanks & Soda Springs, NV

DFHP 2010 Project

Ash Meadows within the Amargosa River system in southern Nevada is a unique desert wetlands complex supporting one of the highest levels of indigenousness species in North America. Designated a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance in 1986, Ash Meadows contains at least 25 unique species and subspecies dependent on these isolated spring and wetland habitats including three endemic fishes, the Ash Meadows and Warm Springs pupfish and Ash Meadows speckled dace, which occur nowhere else in the world.

Through historic development for agriculture, the surface hydrology and aquatic habitats in Ash Meadows have been highly modified by spring diversion, peat mining, irrigation ditches, and water storage impoundments. Anthropogenic landscape alteration has resulted in the loss of habitats vital for the recovery of the Ash Meadows speckled dace and Ash Meadows pupfish and has resulted in the alteration of hydrologic processes that create and maintain those aquatic habitats.

This project through the Desert Fish Habitat Partnership, under the National Fish Habitat Action Plan, supports the restoration of Fairbanks and Soda Springs as a component of the larger Upper Carson Slough restoration across the northern extent of Ash Meadows National Wildlife Reserve. The restoration actions will restore hydrologic processes and create critically needed aquatic habitat for native species within the Fairbanks and Soda Springs spring brook outflow systems which historically supported important populations of Ash Meadows pupfish, speckled dace, endemic aquatic invertebrates and spring snails, and provide connectivity to Carson Slough downstream to enhance genetic exchange and increase habitat for the Ash Meadows pupfish.

The Ash Meadows pupfish occupies numerous springs and outflow channels within Ash Meadows and populations also exist in Crystal Reservoir, Lower Crystal Marsh, and Peterson Reservoir, but because the habitats of the Ash Meadows pupfish comprise most of the surface water in the area, they were the most altered during agricultural development. The entire habitat of this species has been affected by diversion into earthen or concrete channels, impoundments, drying caused by groundwater pumping, or elimination of riparian vegetation.

Ash Meadows Speckled Dace once shared many of the same springs and outflows that the Ash Meadows pupfish inhabits, but they are now only found in two springs (Bradford Spring and Jackrabbit Spring) in stable populations. Loss of faster-flowing, cool water because of habitat alteration, along with introduced aquatic species has prevented the reintroduction of the Ash Meadows speckled dace into most of its historic habitat, including the Fairbanks Spring system.

This project will implement aquatic habitat enhancement and restoration activities including spring source re-shaping/modification, stream channel excavation and construction, installation of fish barriers for future invasive fish species control, road improvement, and the installation of stream crossing structures, improving drainage and restoring hydrologic processes within the Upper Carson Slough complex. These actions to be completed in 2010 will promote fish passage, habitat restoration, and species recovery, including creation of approximately 4.2 miles of stream channel, restoration of approximately 180 acres of emergent marsh and wetland habitat, and allowing re-establishment of Ash Meadows speckled dace in the Fairbanks Spring outflow system to restore a population of this endangered fish which was extirpated more than 50 years ago.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge)

Nevada Department of Wildlife 

USGS Western Fisheries Research Center 

Amargosa Conservancy 

Death Valley Natural History Association

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