An environmental organization sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wednesday in Los Angeles for allegedly failing to protect two populations of speckled dace, a tiny fish that is said to be nearing extinction in the wild.
The agency failed to make required decisions on protection for the Santa Ana speckled dace in Southern California and the Long Valley speckled dace in Mono County, according to the suit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Endangered Species Act protection is a badly needed lifeline for our native speckled dace,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the center. “Fire, drought and reckless water policies have taken a toll on so many of the fish in Southern California’s streams. Only a handful of Long Valley speckled dace live in their native springs and streams anymore. They need emergency action and a coordinated reintroduction to survive.”
Both dace populations are endemic to California, meaning they’re not found anywhere else in the world. Santa Ana speckled dace live in the Santa Ana, San Jacinto, San Gabriel and Los Angeles river systems. Long Valley speckled dace once lived in warm springs and creeks in the Upper Owens River watershed in Mono County, but now are barely hanging on in one spring, with a few hundred more fish remaining in an artificial pond at a managed refuge in Inyo County.
The Santa Ana speckled dace has declined due to dams, water diversions, drought, wildfires, flooding, invasive species and rapid climate change. The Long Valley speckled dace faces threats from water diversions, geothermal energy development, climate change and drought, which have dried up suitable springs and stream habitats, according to the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles federal court.
The center petitioned for protection for Santa Ana speckled dace and Long Valley speckled dace in 2020. The wildlife service determined that both dace may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, but has not yet made listing determinations.
Long delays in protecting species under the Endangered Species Act have been a persistent problem for decades. A 2016 study found that species waited a median of 12 years to receive safeguards. Under the statute, protection decisions are supposed to take two to three years, according to the center.