A night of alcohol-fueled mayhem in Nye County pushed one of the world’s rarest creatures closer to extinction.
It also landed a man in prison and prompted the National Park Service to upgrade security at a hot spring that’s the only home to the Devil’s Hole pupfish.
In April 2016, after a day of drinking, three men shot out the security cameras and broke into the pupfish habitat in the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, about 20 miles northwest of Pahrump.
One of the men, Trent Sargent of Indian Springs, swam in Devil’s Hole and accidentally killed one of the inch-long fish, of which fewer than 200 exist. He was sentenced to a year in prison for violating the Endangered Species Act and for being a felon with a firearm.
“I was curious whether or not they even knew that the fish existed there and really the weight of their actions. That’s what really sparked my interest with this story," Blankenbuehler told KNPR's State of Nevada.
She found out they did know about the fish and never denied it was them caught on video breaking into the facility.
Blankenbuehler talked to Sargent's family about him and the incident because he's serving his sentence in a jail in Los Angeles.
“They were very adamant that they were not apologizing for him. They didn’t think it was unfair even,” she said, “They wanted to be very clear about the fact that he got what he deserved but it’s still too bad.”
From letters she read from Sargent, Blankenbuehler believes he is remorseful about that night.
Blankenbuehler said there is something relatable about the story for most people. She believes many people could see themselves having too much to drink and getting carried away.
“They clearly didn’t know the consequences that were about to come upon them,” she said.
As for the pupfish now, Blankenbuehler said there doesn't seem to be much lasting damage, but the story is a reminder of what can happen to natural places when humans interact with them.
“If this night would have gone a little bit differently and Trent Sargent and his buddies would have hung out in that pool longer, it’s not outside of the realm of possibility to think that this entire species could be wiped out.”
Paige Blankenbuehler, assistant editor, High Country News