Suckers to take sanctuary

Construction will commence Friday, Nov. 2 at the Scott. M. Matheson Wetland Preserve near Moab to build a native fish nursery to help build populations of the threatened Razorback suckers.

After facing extinction for more than 30 years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will recommend their status change from endangered to threatened. Innovative and collaborative partnership projects, including the Green River fish nursery, will be replicated along the main stem of the Colorado River at the preserve.

The fish – with a sharp-edge hump behind its head – has the potential to live up to 40 years. However, most razorback suckers don’t live past their first year. Officials hope this new large-scale effort will help boost the populations.

The Nature Conservancy will be working with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Jones and DeMille Engineering, and Keller Bliesner.

A construction team, starting at 11 a.m. Nov. 2, will enlarge the channel from the Colorado River to a pond, which will provide a safe place for fish to mature. Large machinery will also deepen the pond to increase habitat size and optimize water quality.

There has been “dramatic decline in razorback sucker population due to decreasing water levels, habitat loss and predators,” according to TNC. “This effort supports the Upper Colorado River Basin Endangered Fish Recovery Program.”

Heavy machinery will move more than 20,000 cubic yards of dirt to widen the channel from the Colorado River to the central pond on the preserve and to expand the pond system.

“Research indicates the Scott M. Matheson Wetland Preserve is the only suitable wetland nursery habitat along 65 miles of the Colorado River. In addition to creating a critical habitat for the fish, this project will bring more water to the preserve’s unique wetland ecology, which supports native vegetation, provides flood protection and helps deter wildfires,”according to a statement from the organization.

“Partners of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program are recovering four species of endangered fish in the Colorado River and its tributaries in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming while water use and development continues to meet human needs in compliance with interstate compacts and applicable federal and state laws.”