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California Drought Could Mean Extinction For Tiny Fish Species As Habitat Dries Up

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California Red Hills Roach (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

California Red Hills Roach (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

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TUOLUMNE COUNTY (CBS SF) — California’s drought may lead to the extinction of a tiny fish holding onto dwindling habitat in Tuolumne County.

Researchers with the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences last week set out to find the Red Hills roach, a minnow-like fish that lives in creeks and spring-fed pools.

During the dry season, the roach survives in warming pools until spring, but as the drought has lingered it is feared the fish’s only habitat is drying up completely.

Researchers visited more than a dozen creeks in the Red Hills Mountain range, in a region designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern, a federal conservation ecology program established to protect threatened species and habitats.

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While the researchers did find a creek with hundreds of Red Hills roach fish, two-thirds of the creeks visited were dry, according to UC Davis Fish biologist Peter Moyle.

“So that gave me great concern that these fish could be on the verge of extinction, but, I mean, still you look at it this is a very restricted habitat,” Moyle told Capital Public Radio.

Of the drying creeks that still hold water, only one – Horton Creek – had any Red Hills roach in it and that creek is only half its normal size because of the drought, Moyle told the Sacramento Bee.

“I’m looking at the abundance, the relative abundance of these fish, there’s just not many of them,” UC Davis researcher Rebecca Quiñones told Capitol Public Radio. “In a stream this size, that has water and we’re still in August, I would have expected to see more than what we’re seeing.“

Quiñones and Moyle said they would return to the Red Hills in September to see if the fish are able to hold on amid what Moyle described as a very harsh environment.

Moyle has co-authored other research that estimates more than 80 percent of California’s native fish species will either dwindle significantly or become extinct over the next century.

He also notes that most of the fish extinctions in California have occurred since the 1960s. “Eighty percent of the fish in California are found only in California,” Moyle told the Bee. “This is our problem. These fish are part of our heritage.”

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