The Oregon Fish Trump (and Obama) Want to De-List

Image: USFWS.

The Foskett Speckled Dace lives in an eastern Oregon desert graben valley that rivals any of those in Utah’s redrock country that everybody knows. Black basalt cliffs with 1,500 foot drops, fluorescent green lichen covering them in a clear blue sky, beige colored ice age petroglyphs billboard the dark rock boulders on the talus slopes at the foot of giant lakes now in various states of becoming dry playas like the rest of the Great Basin, exacerbated by the thirst for the “beneficial use” of modern human agriculture in a desert.

This fish lives in a single location, in a spring at the edge of the heavily grazed playa now called Coleman Lake, at the foot of the cliffs of the Warner Valley, and the Trump Administration recently called for its delisting as a threatened and endangered species.


Eastern Oregon is dry as a bone, sharing the trait with its tristate neighbors of California and Nevada where the High Rock meets the Black Rock amid snowcapped mountains. It is a very remote region that has been traditionally abused by the livestock industry, the lakes of which John C. Fremont spoke being dried to feed them with alfalfa. As always, it has been humans and cattle, but during the period of the turn of the 20th Century to just after World War I the region was home to thousands of horses for market and war.

All still abuse this landscape.

In the Warner Valley and alongside Coleman Lake south of the town of Adel where the Foskett live, the threat is primarily cattle from the Bureau of Land Management grazing permittee and the maintenance of a fence line in the 100 meter long habitat for a fish that is an ice age survivor,

The Foskett speckled dace (Rhinichthys osculus ssp.) became isolated in Foskett Spring at the end of the Pluvial period (~9,000–10,000 years ago). Foskett Spring is a natural spring that rises from a springhead pool, flows through a narrow springbrook into a dense growth of cattails, flows into a shallow pool, and then disappears into the soil of the normally dry Coleman Lake. The entire habitat is approximately 100 meters long and averages less than 0.3 meter deep.

They have also been found in the little puddles created where bovine slog through mud as the spring trickles out the fragile exclosure into the dusty playa.

Adel is the home to ranchers Jane and John O’Keefe. Jane is a writer, former Lake County Commissioner, and frequently works in Oregon state government. She created the pseudo-environmental collaborative Sustainable Northwest that advocates for the logging of dryland forests to “restore” the damage created by cattle for cattle under the ruses of riparian and sage grouse restoration. John is the outgoing President of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and was instrumental in the compromise of former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and the Obama Administration in avoid the listing of Sage Grouse as threatened and endangered. They collaborate with the Nature Conservancy and Wilderness Society, also, and the O’Keefe’s have access to 120,000 acres of permitted federal public lands.

Cattlemen don’t like wolves and the restrictions the ESA places upon them, certainly promoting the“beneficial use” of the water rights of man over those of rights of nature, John saying in High Country News, “If you eliminated agriculture, O’Keefe says, “at least in these lakes around here, you wouldn’t really change the big picture. They’ll go down in the dry cycles, they’ll come up in the wet cycles.”

Luckily, nobody claimed a “water right” based on “beneficial use” that drains Foskett Spring on which the dace depend upon for survival.


Every five years the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service undertakes a five year review of the status of threatened and endangered species, the last ending in 2015. Not a single group or individual — myself included — wrote in defense of the Foskett Speckled Dace during the federal public comment period. I’ve written before how the Ruby Pipeline was constructed with collaborating environmental group assistance because it ran through place nobody knows, a pipeline that ripped the heart out of the Great Basin sagebrush steppe like the Glen Canyon Damn to the Colorado Plateau. We’ve taken our kids there and visited the Foskett to marvel at and tell it’s tale.

The Trump Administration has recently issued a 45 day public comment notice recommending that the Foskett be delisted as a threatened and endangered species, raising a very logical, simple, question: How can the USFWS justify the delisting of ANY ESA listed species that depends upon a single 100 meter by 0.3 feet deep area, one dependent upon a single spring with little water surrounded by tenuous wire fencing and desert starved cattle?

+ Because the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife service are cow-captured in places nobody knows.

+ Because it is in a place nobody knows with powerful agriculture and political players on both sides of the isle promoting its delisting.

+ Because the Foskett Speckled Dace is not the Desert Pupfish — an ice age relative — located in as dry Death Valley National Park that everyone knows, celebrated and better protected, seen by tens of thousands a year, lobbied for by the Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association and Center for Biological Diversity.

Now that you know of this place, get out there and comment by March 5, 2018. The Foskett was here long before any humans at all, their only beneficial use their protected existence.

More articles by:

Chris Zinda is an activist and writer living in Oregon.

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