The Rio Grande silvery minnow is not a glamorous fish, but it does have a claim to fame: It's the last minnow species to survive in New Mexico's beleaguered stretch of the Rio Grande, where every native fish is extinct or threatened with extinction. But in April, an irrigation district diverted so much water from the river at San Acacia Dam it dried out a 45-mile stretch that is home to about 70 percent of the minnows' population. Many of the endangered fish, which live just one year, were ready to spawn when they died.
most heinous ecological crime I've experienced in 20 years of
activism," says Sam Hitt, a Green Party candidate for the U.S.
Senate. "I believe they deliberately shut the water off to cause
the minnow extinction."
Federal officials warned
the district that its diversion of water to 400 farms might break
the law. But an extremely dry spring and thirsty crops swayed them.
"Most of us couldn't care less if that fish is here tomorrow,"
Dennis Harris, an onion and hay farmer, told the Albuquerque
In an attempt to save the surviving
minnows, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allowed a fraction of
water to remain in a 10-mile stretch of the river rather than
diverting it to a wildlife refuge below the dam. Later releases
from storage reservoirs also may have given the minnows a fighting
chance. In late May, federal biologist Jennifer Fowler-Probst
reported "evidence of spawning."
Hitt, director of the Santa Fe-based Forest Guardians, says his
group is suing the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for violating the Endangered Species
For more information, contact Forest
Guardians, 612 Old Sante Fe Trail, Suite B, Santa Fe, NM 87501
(505/988-9126); U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2105 Osuna NE,
Albuquerque, NM 87113 (505/761-4525).