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(Kansas City) (AP) – A once abundant minnow that’s been listed as federally endangered for 15 years and is now “in serious trouble” in Missouri is being reintroduced into waterways in northern sections of the state, though a local conservation group questions whether the effort to stem the fish’s decline can succeed.

The Topeka shiner, a silvery fish less than than 3 inches long, was listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1998 after its numbers dropped dramatically because of habitat loss, sedimentation, pollution and other factors in waterways throughout its range in several Midwest states, including Missouri, Nebraska, Minnesota and Kansas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the Topeka shiner is now mainly found scattered in a few tributaries of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and in the Kansas Flint Hills region.

“The plight of the Topeka shiner is not restricted to this single species, but is indicative of the overall loss of high quality prairie stream habitat in Missouri and much of the Midwest,” the Missouri Department of Conservation said in its recent 10-year plan for the fish’s recovery.

There are only two remaining self-sustaining Topeka shiner populations in Missouri, the Conservation Department says.

“The species is in serious trouble in MO and hence the need for artificial propagation,” Paul McKenzie, endangered species coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Columbia, said in an email. He said the species has also declined in parts of Kansas and Iowa and is now rare in Nebraska.

The Missouri reintroduction, a partnership of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Missouri Department of Conservation and The Nature Conservancy, calls for reintroducing up to a few thousand Topeka shiners into three Missouri creeks: Big Muddy Creek, Little Creek and Spring Creek, with work beginning this summer and continuing through October.

The fish that result from the reintroduction will be designated as a “non-essential, experimental” population, which means rules that normally protect endangered species are loosened if the fish are killed during otherwise legal activities, such as farming and recreation. It will take several more years, however, before it can be determined if the reintroduction plan succeeded, McKenzie said.

The Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation group that sued the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2001 over the federal agency’s failure to create critical habitat – federally protected streams – for the Topeka shiner and several other endangered species, said it applauded the reintroduction effort.

“Our freshwater species are threatened with extinction at nearly 1,000 times the historic rate,” Tierra R. Curry, a conservation biologist with the center, said in an email. Curry said the CBD would also like the federal government to finally develop a federal recovery plan for the fish and increase its critical habitat, which has been designated only in Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska.

“Reintroducing populations will help the Topeka shiner recover, and it’s great that the Service is taking concrete action to help save this pretty fish,” Curry said.

Ken Midkiff, former director of the Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club, however, said he doubted the reintroduction would succeed because key problems that led to the fish’s demise in Missouri, like pollution and pesticide runoff that impede the fish’s ability to reproduce, still haven’t been addressed.

“I don’t know why they’re doing this because it’s not going to work,” said Midkiff, who is now a local Sierra Club volunteer.

“The big problem was that in order to have a successful spawn, the Topeka shiner requires cool, clear water and ripples free of silt and sediment and hog crap and things like that. … The core problem that caused the decline of the Topeka shiner has not been addressed,” he said. “They can reintroduce all day, and the Topeka shiner will fail to reproduce.

“And I guess you’ll have a bunch of old Topeka shiners around.”

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