The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently honored three fish biologists for their work in trying to bring back the Devil’s Hole pupfish, which has been on the brink of extinction for more than 40 years.
Lee Simons, the federal agency’s senior fish biologist in Las Vegas, and state biologists Kevin Guadalupe and Brandon Senger were among the team recognized for their work as part of the 2013 Recovery Champions awards.
The Devil’s Hole pupfish is found only in one water-filled cavern in Nye County, some 90 miles west of Las Vegas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service formed a nine-member team in April 2012 when the dime-sized fish had shrunk to 35. The population of Devil’s Hole pupfish peaked at 544 in 1990, but began to decline in 1996.
“The reality was we were so low on these species,” Simons said. “We were down to 35. The reality was this was one of the most endangered species in North America that we know of.”
Simons said whether the Devil’s Hole pupfish is worth saving has always been a difficult question to answer.
“It really relates to (our) perspective on what is a priority,” Simons said, “There is a legal requirement that is pretty strong. An ethical argument a lot of people believe is that most species have a right to exist. There is also the concept of umbrella species. That by protecting the Devil’s Hole pupfish, you are protecting other species, protecting the whole ecosystem.”
Beside the Fish and Wildlife Service, the species is being closely monitored by the National Park Service and Nevada Department of Wildlife. Simons said they’ve been breeding the pupfish in captivity and have successfully raised 29 pupfish to adulthood.
To prevent extinction, the federal agency built the $4.5 million Ash Meadows Fish Conservation Facility less than a mile away from the cavern. Simons said the facility is focusing on the Devil’s Hole pupfish, but will expand with other projects in the future.
Lee Simons, senior fish biologist U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service