Controlling Invasive Species In The Virgin River Basin
Invasive species have been implicated in 70% of recent native aquatic extinctions and up to $150 billion in damages in North America. In many cases, invasive species have ruined local sports fisheries requiring expensive chemical treatments and hundreds hours of planning and restoration.
Closer to home, in the Virgin River Basin, invasive species such as the Red Shiner, Smallmouth Bass, and the Flathead Minnow can thrive in the region's. Unchecked, these invasive species can devastate native fish species, and in the Virgin River Basin, that includes the endangered Woundfin and Virgin River Chub.
Melinda Bennion is a biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Along with Adam Kavalunas, the Outreach Manager for the Southern Region of the DWR, and Johnny O' Niel, Recreation Specialist for DWR, they were on the radio to discuss the situation and steps DWR is taking to improve conditions for native species.
Bennion explained some of the motivation to ensure that the native species could thrive. “The provide intrinsic value, they're historic in this area, they're part of Utah's heritage. They've always been here. Those fish (native species), are part of the future for our children and grandchildren.”
Currently the Virgin River Chub is endangered, so if you happen to catch one you are required to release it. Historically these fish were an important food source to Native Americans and early pioneers.
But it wasn't the the use of the fish as a food source that caused the fish to become endangered. Nor was it over fishing. It was the introduction of invasive species that caused the numbers to diminish to concerning levels.
Bennion continued, “all of the species in this area, they've evolved here, and they all have some kind of role in the ecosystem. So maybe you don't care about fish at all, but you care about recreation or the water quality in the area.” Most of the drinking water in Washington County comes from the Virgin River. The native species have a role in filtering water in the Virgin River.
Some of the invasive species arrived in our area through swimming here before fish barriers were in place. But a significant amount of invasive species fish have been introduced in to local waterways by human actions. Aquarium fish released in to the Virgin River Basin do cause harm to native fish due to predation, competition, and disease transmission.
DWR has introduced the “Don't Ditch a Fish” program to help residents in the proper disposing of aquarium fish.
Melinda reported that there has been some success in removing some of the invasive species from the Virgin River Basin, telling us, “we've actually removed the main fish we're worried about..called the Red Shiner. We still have other issues and some of that comes from in stream flows.”
You can listen to our entire segment with the DWR representatives below.
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