Saving the sucker
How the fish was listed as endangered
By JILL AHO, Herald and News 9/13/09
|KBC NOTE: "In
1986 the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff responsible
for whether or not to pursue these (ESA) listings believed
there were only 12,000 Lost River suckers in Upper Klamath
Lake...they didn't believe they were endangered. A couple
years later...we now know for a fact that number's exceeded
by tens of thousands of Lost River suckers. Now they flip
flop and say they are endangered. What constitutes
endangered? David Vogel, fisheries scientist with 29 years
experience, 14 years working for the Fish and Wildlife
Submitted photo Lost River suckers were listed as an endangered
species in 1988.
The Lost River and shortnose suckers joined the list of endangered
species when notice was published July 18, 1988, in the Federal
It had been 18 years since any significant increase was recorded
in sucker populations in Upper Klamath Lake.
When the Klamath Basin was a sprawling wetland and floodplain,
with more than 350,000 acres of potential habitat for the sucker,
the fish lived in many areas connected by the Klamath River and
its tributaries. Dams were erected, irrigation channels dug and
wetlands drained, altering the landscape and reducing the habitat
and connectivity of that habitat throughout the watershed,
according to the Federal Register.
Concern about the health of these fish prompted collection efforts
and documentation. It was estimated, based on spawning run counts,
that 23,123 Lost River suckers were living in Upper Klamath Lake
in 1984. By 1985, that population had declined to an estimated
In 1984, 2,650 individual shortnose suckers were estimated to live
in the lake. In 1985 and 1986 there were too few shortnose suckers
found during the spawning run to estimate how many were left.
The Fish and Wildlife Service proposed in August 1987 listing the
shortnose and Lost River suckers as endangered species. Public
notice throughout the region garnered just 13 comments, and none
opposed listing the fish.
The criteria for listing a species under the Endangered Species
Act include: The presence or threatened destruction, modification
or curtailment of its habitat or range; overutilization for
commercial, recreational, scientific or education purposes;
disease or predation; inadequacy of existing regulatory
mechanisms; and other natural or man made factors affecting its
The determination that added the sucker to the Endangered Species
list was based on a limited amount of existing data about the fish
and its decline. “Causes of the decline are varied and not fully
understood,” it states. “Clearly, there has been a drastic
reduction in spawning success.”
One thing was certain. A dam upstream of the confluence of the
Sprague and Williamson rivers near Chiloquin likely eliminated 95
percent of the fish’s spawning grounds, according to the Federal
Register listing, and fish ladders placed on the Sprague River dam
did little to aid in fish passage.
The dam was removed last year to increase the upstream spawning
habitat available to suckers from Upper Klamath Lake. It is
believed the dam’s removal will provide as much as 80 miles of
spawning grounds, according to the Federal Register listing.
Where the sucker makes its home
The endangered Lost River and shortnose suckers can be found in
Upper Klamath Lake and its tributaries: Williamson River, Sprague
River, Sycan River, Wood River, Crooked Creek and Crystal Creek.
Suckers also can be found in Tule Lake and its tributaries, Lost
River and Miller Creek, and in Clear Lake and its tributaries,
Willow Creek and Boles Creek.
In addition, suckers have been located in Link River and Lake
Ewauna, Keno Reservoir, JC Boyle Reservoir, Copco Reservoir, Iron
Gate Reservoir and Gerber Reservoir (shortnose only).
The fish historically lived in Sevenmile Creek, Fourmile Creek,
Lake of the Woods, Lower Klamath Lake and Sheepy Creek.
According to the 1988 Federal Register listing, the population of
suckers living in Lake of the Woods was lost in 1952 during a fish
eradication program aimed at removing carp and perch from the
The populations in Sheepy Lake, Lower Klamath Lake and Tule Lake
were lost in 1924 when the lakes were drained for farming. The
Lost River suckers living in Clear Lake are the last known
population of the species from the Lost River system.
— Information from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Critical habitat: Providing safe havens for fish
By Jill Aho, Herald and News 9/13/09
On Dec. 1, 1994, a proposal for designating critical habitat for
the endangered Lost River and shortnose suckers was published in
the Federal Register. Critical habitat is defined as all areas
essential to the recovery of a species to the point of delisting.
Designating critical habitat is meant to identify areas that have
habitat features essential to the recovery of a species,
regardless of whether the areas are currently occupied by a
species. It makes agencies and the public more aware of the
importance of an area, according to information from the Federal
“The idea behind any critical habitat designation is you’re
providing a safe haven for listed fish,” said Ani Kame’enui, the
Klamath campaign coordinator for Oregon Wild. Oregon Wild sued the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1993 to finish critical habitat
designation for the suckers.
“The idea is you’re creating a specific area for this fish that
can operate as an area that they will not be adversely affected by
their surroundings,” Kame’enui said.
The designation of critical habitat does not, however,
automatically prohibit certain actions, establish population goals
or prescribe specific management actions. It can potentially
increase knowledge about a species’ needs by focusing research
efforts within the critical habitats. The designation affects
solely federally issued permits and federally funded projects.
Included in the proposal were portions of both current and
historic habitat for the sucker. Because water quality and
quantity are part of critical habitat, areas affecting water
quality were included. Sites such as Pelican Bay, which provides a
refuge for the fish during times of poor water quality, and areas
within 300 feet of either bank of streams known to be used by
suckers, would fall under this provision.
The areas identified for inclusion are Clear Lake and its
watershed, Tule Lake and the Lost River, the Klamath River from
Iron Gate Dam up to the Link River Dam, Upper Klamath Lake and its
watershed (excluding Williamson and Sprague rivers, but including
Agency Lake), the Williamson and Sprague rivers extending from the
mouth of the Williamson River and up the Sprague River to its
confluence with Brown Creek and Gerber Reservoir and its
watershed. Excluded are the Bureau of Reclamation canals.
“We haven’t seen the final designation, but there was some thought
that the final might be slightly smaller than the proposed
critical habitat,” Kame’enui said.
Mark Buettner, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, said the finalization is likely to occur after the
recovery plan is finished, perhaps in 2012.