SPRINGFIELD, Ore. -

A tiny minnow that lives only in Oregon is set to become the first fish ever taken off U.S. Endangered Species Act protection because it is no longer threatened with extinction.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday that the Oregon chub has recovered, 21 years after it went on the endangered species list. The service's proposal goes through a 60-day public comment period before becoming final.

The fish had practically disappeared from Oregon's Willamette Valley as the swampy backwaters it inhabits were drained to create farms and cities over the past century and a-half.

State biologist Brian Bangs says unlike Pacific salmon, the Oregon chub was relatively easy to save because it doesn't get in the way of huge economic forces, such as logging and hydroelectric power.

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News release from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife:

Oregon chub first fish to be recovered under ESA

CORVALLIS, Ore – An inconspicuous minnow that inhabits the backwaters of the Willamette Valley gained national prominence this week when it became the first fish in the United States meet its recovery goals under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today it will propose that Oregon chub be taken off the Endangered Species List, the first fish to achieve this status since the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was enacted 40 years ago.

It’s all thanks to a remarkable story of cooperation between landowners, non-profit organizations, and state and federal agencies that got behind the effort decades ago to ensure the species would not become extinct.

"I couldn’t be prouder that the first fish species to be proposed for delisting under the Endangered Species Act is an Oregon native,” said Governor John Kitzhaber. “This is a huge compliment to Oregonians and our history of conservation leadership, and an extraordinary testament to the power of collaboration between landowners and local, state, and federal agency employees.

"The delisting of the Oregon chub is the product of remarkable partnerships by committed people who have advanced Oregon's natural legacy while showing that economic health is not only possible but strengthened by efforts to recover and safeguard native fish and wildlife."

“This is an excellent example of how the Endangered Species Act is intended to function, working together with partners to recover endangered species,” added Paul Henson, state supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Oregon office.  “This is a monumental success and could not have happened without our partners at Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the many others. This came about from a great vision and a lot of hard work on behalf of the Service and our multitude of partners.”

Oregon chubs: The ‘ultimate underdogs’

Oregon chub are likely one of Oregon’s least known fish species because of their size and where they are found. 

Oregon chub are small; they reach a maximum length of three inches, and they are not targeted by anglers as sport or food fish.

These silvery, speckled minnows make their homes in sloughs, bogs, beaver ponds and other slow-moving backwaters of the Willamette Valley.

Over the past 100 years, many of these habitats were destroyed by the construction of dams, channelization of streams and draining of wetlands.

These habitat losses, combined with the introduction of non-native fish that preyed on and competed with chubs for food, resulted in a sharp decline in their abundance.

“Oregon chub are like the ultimate underdogs,” said Paul Scheerer, ODFW Oregon Chub Project leader, who has devoted the past 22 years of his professional life to recovering the tiny fish. “Not many people know what they’re looking at when they see one, including some biologists.”

When Oregon chub were listed as “endangered” under the ESA in 1993 the population had declined to under 1,000 fish in eight known locations, down from at least 29 locations historically.

The listing triggered a multi-agency campaign to recover the Oregon Chub population. The now 22-years-long recovery program included better monitoring, working with landowners to secure new habitat, improving floodplain management and transplanting fish to more than 20 new locations.

When a multi-agency task force known as the Oregon Chub Working Group met in 2012 to review the numbers they concluded the populations were large, stable and dispersed enough to warrant a closer look at delisting the fish.  A follow-up review of the numbers a second time, in 2013, confirmed their earlier finding – the populations had grown to approximately 160,000 fish in 83 locations.

Under the criteria set in the Oregon Chub Recovery Plan there needed to be at least 20 populations of at least 500 adults, with each population stable or increasing in abundance for seven years. In addition, these populations needed to be dispersed with at least four populations each in three Oregon river basins – the Middle Fork Willamette, Santiam, and main stem Willamette.

“When I crunched the numbers in 2012, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve achieved our delisting targets!’” said Brian Bangs, ODFW fish biologist and assistant Oregon Chub Project leader, who’s been studying Oregon chubs since 2008. “This is a big deal to us. We’ve been working on this a long time. It’s been our passion for years.”