Arkansas darter are native to the Chico Creek Drainage on Chico Basin Ranch and were known to occur historically at multiple locations. Ranchlands has been partnering with Colorado Parks and Wildlife on conservation and recovery of this species through the monitoring of current populations, and reintroduction in areas which had a historic presence. Many of the efforts on the Chico were taken into consideration during the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service assessment of this species, which concluded that these fish are “not warranted” for federal listing. Landowner partnerships with CPW are critical to wildlife conservation and management efforts.
In 2014, Paul Foutz and a team from Colorado Parks and Wildlife were releasing several hundred Arkansas darter into a site on the Chico Creek on Chico Basin Ranch. At that time, the fish were state threatened and a candidate for the federal endangered species list. In December 2016, U.S. Fish and Wildlife announced that these fish are no longer candidates, due in part to the conservation partnerships of CPW and landowners working together to maintain current populations and establish new populations in the wild on the Chico and elsewhere!
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.
“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.
Read the full press release from CPW here.