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Know the West

More than one pupfish per smile


Thanks to Laura Pritchett (“Laughter, America, Death Valley,” HCN, 2/5/18) and her sweetheart, Kevin, for paying homage to laughter, sorrow and native desert fishes. Death Valley’s pupfish species set an especially good example for us in these dark and heated times: They keep swimming even when the water in the tub is trickling down the drain and what’s left behind is hot, salty, silty or predatory.

However, Death Valley National Park and nearby desert wetlands host more than one endangered species and subspecies of pupfish that exist “nowhere else on the planet.” The national park alone provides intermittently drying shelter for at least two species and four subspecies of pupfishes. East of the park, a private landowner, state and federal biologists, and a small nonprofit have helped paddle the Shoshone pupfish back from the dry edge of disaster. Also east of the park, Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge (where Pritchett likely saw “little blue flashes in the deep pool”) shelters two pupfish species and three subspecies, all endangered. Amargosa River pupfish still dart through the Amargosa River almost all the way to Badwater in Death Valley National Park. Tecopa pupfish, which also lived east of the park, are gone forever. They’re the first animal to be removed from the endangered species list due to extinction. 

The upshot, for Laura and Kevin, is an invitation to come back and admire more pupfish species — the West isn’t lost, not yet, and not for pupfishes. It’s just a bit broken. The upshot for all of us is that we’re still surrounded by tiny, irreplaceable animals that perform astounding acts of survival every day. We owe it to them not only to laugh in the face of despair, but also to do our best to oppose bad jokes being fobbed off as government (e.g., suppression of climate change data, rollbacks of the collaborative Greater Sage Grouse Conservation Plan and Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan) so we can all continue to co-exist, even when we’re up to our dorsal fins in hot water.

Ceal Klingler
Bishop, California