SALT LAKE CITY — Eighteen years and multiple partners fighting to save an imperiled fish found only in Utah Lake are starting to see success, with the June sucker increasing in population from only 300 to 2,000 at last count.
That success is driving a proposal announced Monday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to change the species status from endangered to threatened.
The proposed change in classification is huge because it means the federal agency no longer believes the species is in immediate danger of extinction.
“Partnerships are the key to conservation effectiveness, and trust is the glue that holds them together. The success we’ve seen with June sucker recovery would not have been possible without the contributions, cooperation, engagement and persistence of our local, state and federal partners,” said Chris Keleher, recovery program director for the Utah Department of Natural Resources.
“Downlisting is a major milestone and cause for celebration, but speaking for the partnership, we will remain committed to the ultimate goal — the recovery of the June sucker,” Keleher said.
In 1999, the population of the June sucker was at only 300 fish, which led to the establishment of the June Sucker Recovery Implementation Program in 2001. Partners in the recovery program have actively worked to increase the population through habitat management and reduction of threats, according to the federal agency.
“The improved status of the June sucker would not have been possible without the shared commitment to conservation from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and other partners,” said Noreen Walsh, director of the federal agency’s Mountain-Prairie Region. “Our best chance for continued success in recovering species rests in the power of these long-term, collaborative partnerships.”
Walsh said the proposed change in status for the June sucker does not mean all threats are abated, including predator fish such as carp.
The Utah Lake Commission has previously stated its goal is to remove 32 million pounds of carp from the lake, and more than 17 million pounds have been removed.
The announcement of the proposed change in status for the June sucker drew praise from conservation organizations.
“The successful efforts to recover the June sucker show the Endangered Species Act is working,” said Ryan Beam, a Utah conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This important law benefits not just species like the June sucker, but people who depend on clean water. If this hard work continues, maybe one day Utah Lake will once again shine clear.”
The proposed rule to change the fish’s classification is available for public review and comment in the Federal Register for 60 days after publication. Interested parties can submit comments electronically at this website.