A fish out of water: Rewilding the Pahrump poolfish in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Aaron Ambos
Published: 22 April 2022
Last edited: 22 April 2022
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Summary

The Springs Preserve (Preserve) is a 73-ha urban park in Las Vegas, Nevada. Before 1962, three springs flowed into riparian meadows at what is now the Preserve. These springs were once inhabited by the Las Vegas dace (Rhinichthys deaconi), an extinct fish species described from museum specimens in 1984. As part of a 20-year restoration effort, ponds were constructed in the dry Las Vegas Creek bed to rewild the federally endangered Pahrump poolfish (Empetrichthys latos), a species considered critically endangered by the IUCN. This endemic fish was extirpated in 1975 from Manse Spring in Pahrump Valley, Nye County, Nevada. Although Manse Spring was lost to groundwater pumping for agriculture, some fish were translocated proactively to establish refugia populations. Recently, two of these refugia were decimated by the illegal introduction of non-native species. The establishment of a population at the Preserve further protects the species from stochastic events that can lead to extinction.   

Classifications

Region
North America
Scale of implementation
Local
Ecosystem
Desert ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems
Hot desert
Pool, lake, pond
River, stream
Urban ecosystem and build environment
Urban wetlands
Theme
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Restoration
Science and research
Species management
Species Conservation and One Health Interventions
Genetic Conservation
Species Monitoring and Research
Species Intensive Management (in situ or ex situ)
Species Conservation Translocations
Species Conservation Planning
Challenges
Drought
Extreme heat
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Ecosystem loss
Invasive species
Infrastructure development
Lack of infrastructure
Sustainable development goals
SDG 14 – Life below water
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 12: Reducing risk of extinction
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge
(I)NDC Submission

Location

Springs Preserve, 333 S Valley View Blvd, Las Vegas, Nevada 89107, United States

Challenges

The Pahrump poolfish was endemic to a single spring system in the Mojave Desert. This spring went dry decades ago because of agricultural pumping, but not before the late University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor Dr. Jim Deacon rescued and translocated a bucket of Pahrump poolfish. Our solution addresses the limited number of refugia populations in
existence by establishing an additional refugium population in a preserve with a focus on education and conservation.  In addition, as a ground-breaking rewilding project, the ecological niche once occupied by the extinct Las Vegas dace is filled by a federally endangered fish in need of additional habitat.

 

Our focus on education brings awareness about the plight of desert fishes that inhabit isolated spring systems and the devastating impact of non-native species such as mosquitofish,
bullfrogs, and crayfish.

 

Beneficiaries

The beneficiaries of our solution include the federally endangered Pahrump poolfish and guests of the Springs Preserve, either in person or through various media and/or social media outlets, that can learn about the conservation of desert fish.

How do the building blocks interact?

Each block builds upon the previous one. First, regulatory issues were adressed, then the habitat was created. Once the habitat was established, the endangered Pahrump poolfish were introduced into the ponds. The last step is annual monitoring of population status and continued management of the pond system.

Impacts

Despite the loss of the endemic Las Vegas dace, the Springs Preserve was rewilded with the critically endangered Pahrump poolfish. A self-sustaining population was established in the Preserve refugium ponds in 2018. Fish are once again part of the ecosystem after an absence of approximately 60 years. The rewilding of the Preserve generated a surprising amount of positive local media coverage. This media coverage was leveraged to educate the public about the plight of endangered species and the damage caused by the illegal introduction of non-native species to native fauna.

Contributed by

raymond.saumure_41699's picture

Raymond Saumure Las Vegas Valley Water District / Southern Nevada Water Authority / Springs Preserve

Other contributors

Southern Nevada Water Authority
Springs Preserve
US Fish and Wildlife Service
Nevada Department of Wildlife
Nevada Department of Wildlife
Southern Nevada Water Authority