Efforts to save the piping plover, least tern and pallid sturgeon have been going on for a decade. However, the U.S. House has voted to cut the budget for the recovery program; the amendment was sponsored by Northwest Missouri Congressman Sam Graves. The measure would reduce funding from $72 million to $50 million.
“There is way too much, or so much more priority that is placed on two birds and a fish than on on people, and I think it is ridulous that the federal government would be spending that kind of money for this Missouri River Recovery Program when it has the fiscal problems that it does have,” Graves tells Missourinet. He says he wants to cut the program’s funding back to 2008 levels.
Recovery Program Steve Fischer says a large portion of their current budget goes to shallow water habitat restoration … another goes to gauge response to those efforts. It funds the scientific research that shows whether restoration efforts are causing an increase in numbers for endangered species: the pallid sturgeon, piping plover and least tern.
Graves says the government is not in a position to take on more land.
“This whole idea of habitat restoration in many cases goes way too far,” he says. “That money is used to restructure habitat; it’s also used to acquire property along the river, which, you know, that’s another issue of mine. “I don’t think the federal government has any business buying any more property. “It can’t manage what it already has, it can’t afford what it already has, and what’s more, it certainly can’t afford to be buying new property and taking it out of production and taking it off the tax rolls.”
Graves says he’s also not seen any definitive proof that it’s working.
Fischer says it is. He says the pallid sturgeon aren’t sexually mature until 20 years of age, so it’s going to be a slow process to see the habitat restoration make a difference.
“Some of those initial stocking efforts are now finally starting to pay off,” Fisher says. “We are seeing fish that are in reproductive conditions.”
The pallid sturgeon and other fish species are endangered as a result of years of modifications to their native rivers. Only 8 percent of that land has been returned to natural habitat at this point.
“When we began this effort roughly ten years ago, the adult sturgeon levels in the system were so low, no one even knew if you could artifically reproduce those,” Fischer says. “So efforts working with our cooperators, in particular the Missouri Department of Conservation, were very instrumental in being able to artificially reproduce the pallid sturgeon. Huge, huge success there.”
Biologists say the sturgeon have been unchanged for more than 200 million years, they outlived the dinosaurs, but that changing and damming the rivers have rendered them nearly extinct in just 50 years. They predict that if restoration efforts don’t continue, they’ll be extinct by 2018.
Anglers are reminded that if they catch a pallid sturgeon, they must release them. Pallid sturgeon can weigh up to 80 pounds and reach lengths of 6 feet, whereas the closely-related shovelnose sturgeon rarely weighs more than 8 pounds. The back and sides of pallid sturgeons are grayish-white, versus the brownish tan color of the shovelnose sturgeons.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asks that they be contacted with any information on any pallid sturgeon caught.
Graves does not dispute the importance of bolstering these endangered populations, but says their importance should not be placed above people.