The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is continuing to work on its plans to help the Topeka shiner, as the endangered species common to eastern South Dakota’s small streams continues to try to make a resurgence.
The species, which has been listed as endangered since 1998, is the subject of a recently issued draft recovery plan, which lays out the actions that can be taken to conserve and help bolster the species.
South Dakota has three large waterways and watersheds that support the Topeka shiner, including the James, the Vermillion and the Big Sioux rivers all in the southeastern part of the state. Those are three of the nine population complexes where the USFWS is seeking to support the endangered species, ranging from Iowa and Missouri to Nebraska and Kansas.
Wildlife leaders said this week that better collaboration between state and federal agencies and private landowners holds the keys to improving the species’ status.
“The goal is to get the species to have resilient, redundant and representative populations across the range,” said Jason Luginbill, who is a project leader stationed out of the USFWS’ Ecological Services field office in Manhattan, Kansas.
The Topeka shiner is a small minnow which is generally 3 inches or shorter in length. It is generally silver and has a dark stripe on its side, while males can turn red along their fins during breeding season. Typically, the Topeka shiners can be found in small streams with clear water, and can flow year-round.
The plan will guide the Recovery Implementation Strategy, which is the operational plan that will lay out specific tasks and how they’ll be executed. That strategy will be developed once the Recovery Plan is finalized.
Some of the recovery efforts call for continued work on oxbow restoration and creating riparian buffers to improve water quality by filtering runoff. That assists with channel stability and reduces streambank erosion. Other priorities call for the removal of some manmade structures such as perched culverts and dams which are barriers to the minnows and tend to favor larger predators.
The plan also says that recovery and potential removal for the Topeka shiner from the endangered list can be achieved as soon as within 10 years with a well-coordinated and collaborated effort. Part of the plan is to identify an estimated cost, which ranged from $17.2 million to $30.6 million over a 10-year-span. Luginbill said the public should not be overwhelmed by that dollar figure.
“There are various programs that facilitate and leverage those needs. With collaboration from numerous different groups, it’s tangible and feasible,” Luginbill said.
Some of the proposals also call for additional monitoring and research and sharing information to better understand potential issues. As for the partnership with all stakeholders, Luginbill pointed out that public-private partnerships were critical in helping with the resurgence of the bald eagle, considered one of wildlife’s great comeback stories, when it was delisted from the endangered list in 2007.
As for the Topeka shiner, Luginbill said they’re on the right track but have room to improve. He said building strong relationships with private landowners will continue to be “super fundamental to the recovery of the species.”
“We’re closer than what we were because of what we know about the changes on landscape management,” Luginbill said. “Twenty years ago, there were probably more stressors on the landscape, but as a product of technology, awareness, more interest, there’s assistance and (land managers) don’t feel like they’re out there on their own.”
Justin Shoemaker, who is a USFWS classification and recovery biologist based in Lakewood, Colorado, said one key development in the last 20 years is learning that the species is far more widespread than was known in 1998, including within South Dakota. Since 1999, the species has been documented in more than 200 small to midsize streams.
“We outline nine population complexes that are important in this plan, and three of those nine are located in South Dakota,” Shoemaker said. “The importance of South Dakota is pretty huge going forward.”
State agencies, such as the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, provides information and monitoring to the USFWS, which makes it easier to understand trends in where the species is situated.
“We wouldn’t be where we are now without the relationships we have with the states,” Luginbill said. “We’ve had a lot of people involved with this that are vested in this. … It doesn’t happen without everyone being at the table.”