Northern leatherside chub Lepidomeda copei
ESA status: petitioned for listing
If you are looking into a stream in the Sagebrush Sea area of Wyoming or Idaho, chances are you won’t see a northern leatherside chub. Firstly, there just aren’t that many to see – only an estimated 2,500. Second, they are small, only three to five inches long, and their tiny scales give them their trademark leathery appearance and keep them inconspicuous. And lastly, they live in cold pools and riffles with intact streambanks and healthy streamside vegetation, something that is becoming increasingly rare in the West.
Although streams and streamsides comprise less than 1% of the Sagebrush Sea, they are critically important to a majority of species on the landscape. These arteries of life are under threat from agricultural run-off, culverts and channelization, and depletion for irrigation. Cattle, when allowed access to streamsides, trample the banks and pollute the streams with silt and droppings. Extensive field observations from the late 1980s suggest streamside areas throughout much of the West were in the worst condition in history.
The leatherside chub has been an early casualty of the degradation of Western streams, suffering precipitous declines. Not only must they contend with loss of and alteration to their preferred habitat, they are also eaten by a number of non-native fishes, and even used as bait minnows. WildEarth Guardians has petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection for the leatherside chub, and we intend to protect not only this endangered fish but the entire ecosystem on which it depends. Protecting the leatherside chub would also provide habitat protections for the Bonneville cutthroat trout, mountain whitefish, Paiute sculpin, boreal toad, mottled sculpin, Utah chub, speckled dace, and many other fishes, and safeguard the fragile riparian areas of the West.
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photo credit: Eric Wagner, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources