Top Ten Wildlife Areas We Love (and Would Hate to Lose)

Silvery Minnow
Silvery Minnow
Flash in the Pan: The minnow's days may be numbered (USFWS)

Why We Love It:

Before European settlers came to the Southwest, this four-inch-long silver and emerald fish lived along the entire 1,700-mile Rio Grande River. Since then, more and more people have flocked to southwestern cities such as Santa Fe and Albuquerque, and urban and agricultural water needs have run the Rio Grande dry. The battle over the river, pitting environmental groups like New Mexico's Forest Guardians against farm interests and local politicians, has now centered on this emblematic underdog.

Where It's Happiest:

The minnow prefers large rivers to small streams, living in schools and feeding off plant material and insect larvae skins. It spawns in the spring and summer, its eggs floating on top of the water before they hatch.

The Cold, Hard Numbers:

Once one of the most abundant fishes in the Rio Grande and surrounding rivers, silvery minnows are now found in only about 170 miles of river, about 5 percent of its historical range. Earlier, in 2003, Interior Secretary Gale Norton cut $9.5 million in habitat restoration funds for the minnow.

Who's to Blame:

Channeling water from the Rio Grande has had a catastrophic effect on the minnow's habitat. Dams and man-made waterways have further prevented distribution. Despite this, in January 2004 an appeals court ruled that the minnow's endangered status could not prevent the state from taking water from the San Juan and Chama rivers for Santa Fe's water needs.

When It's Gone:

Environmentalists fear that legal precedents set over silvery minnow court battles could have long-lasting effects on the preservation of other species. Additionally, the fish's fate is intrinsically tied to that of the river. "Unless we can change the archaic water policies governing the river, the health of the minnow, and of the river itself, is in jeopardy," says Forest Guardians Executive Director John Horning.

Signs of Life:

Despite recent court rulings and political decisions, some $5 million still comes from the government for habitat restoration.

Published: 19 Mar 2004 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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