Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks re-introduces threatened fish species
As election workers tear down and pack up polling stations, and coffee shops bustle with side conversations about the future of The Sunflower State, one small-but-mighty “candidate” is quietly entering a race of its own – a race to re-establish its kind as a thriving species in Kansas waters. And thanks to the aid of Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) Fisheries and Ecological Services staff, the campaign of the Plains Minnow is off to a promising start.
A native species that was once abundant in the sandy streams and rivers of the Kansas and Arkansas river basins, the Plains Minnow has substantially declined in numbers statewide since 1970. These declines have long been attributed to changes in streamflow volumes and patterns due to groundwater mining and surface water diversions – such as dams, levees, pumping stations, irrigation canals or other man-made structures.
The Plains Minnow was listed as a Species in Need of Conservation in 1987 prior to being reclassified as Threatened in 2003 under the Kansas Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act. Still, 19 years later, not all was lost.
Over the past two years, KDWP staff have collected more than 250 mature Plains Minnows from the Salt Fork Arkansas River in Barber County in hopes of propagating the species. The adult fish were safely transported to the Department’s Kansas Aquatic Biodiversity Center in Farlington, Kan., where they were carefully managed to be captively propagated and reared for release into areas where they once thrived. And KDWP is proud to announce that the staff’s multi-year efforts have paid off.
The initial adult population of Plains Minnows collected from the wild by KDWP has since grown impressively to more than 2,500 captive-bred fish large enough for stocking in native waters, and on Monday, Nov. 7, that’s exactly what happened.
Dan Mosier II, senior manager of fish culture at KDWP, led the late-morning delivery effort to systematically release the newly-reared Plains Minnows into the Arkansas River via a public access point in Oxford, Kan.
“This 2022 year-class of minnows were transferred from the KABC’s live transport trailer to a ‘soft release’ containment structure in the river,” Mosier said. “This structure, pioneered by KDWP’s Ecological Services Section, allowed the minnows to become fully adjusted to the river’s current before being released.”
“The value of this type of conservation effort is that it can help ensure the long-term viability of this native species throughout its current and historical distribution in Kansas,” said Mark VanScoyoc, biodiversity survey coordinator and ecologist for KDWP. “By bolstering native populations, we become one step closer toward down-listing, and potentially removing this species, from its threatened status.”
While the race to re-establish the Plains Minnow has really just begun, staff are confident this initiative – combined with further propagation efforts and monitoring – will serve as a guide for many more native species recovery efforts in the future.
To learn more about threatened and endangered species in Kansas – including the recovery plans KDWP has in place to guide research and management of listed species – go to https://ksoutdoors.com/Services/Threatened-and-Endangered-Wildlife.