With a sacred minnow on the brink of extinction, the Native Americans of Clear Lake demand a bold plan

Credit: Richard Macedo, California Fish and Game

The spring runs of a large minnow, numbering in the millions, have fed the Pomo Indians since they first made their home on the shores of Northern California’s Clear Lake more than 400 generations ago.

The Clear Lake hit gleamed like silver dollars as it swept upward into the lake’s arms to spawn; A reliable, writhing bountiful product steeped in history and delicious when salted and dried like cured meat.

In all that time, the hitchhiking area about 110 miles northwest of Sacramento has never experienced any deterioration in recent years.

Now, the Pomo Indian tribes of Clear Lake watch with growing sadness, if not anger, as the symbol of abundance and security they call chi disappears.

On Monday, they took the rare and drastic step of urging Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to use emergency powers and enforce the federal Endangered Species Act in the name of the Clear Lake disruption.

“Restoring Chi will require a bold plan of action designed by people with the power to move mountains,” said Ron Montez, tribal history preservation officer for the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians.

“I have almost zero confidence in state or federal officials to save Chi and our way of life,” said Montez, 72. “Of course it could be a miracle.”

A positive turnaround came when the California Fish and Game Commission called on Martha Williams, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, on November 3, to list the endangered fish as an emergency.

The Clear Lake hitch was designated as a threatened species under California’s Endangered Species Act in 2014. But since then, their numbers have dwindled to near zero, according to recent research.

“Federal protections will offer additional financial and agency resources,” the commission said, requiring the recovery of critical habitat. It will also now prohibit harming or harassing species that are not essential under state endangered species law.

However, some of the causes of disruption seem extraordinarily difficult to fix: prolonged drought, mercury pollution, gravel mining, an overtaxed water distribution system, pesticides and runoff from vineyards and marijuana plants, and predatory, non-native game fish.

In any case, “We’re still waiting for a response from the service,” said Samantha Murray, chair of the five-member state regulatory board.

Scientists say the 2023 spring spawning season is crucial for the Clear Lake disruption to continue. This is because the last observed successful ovulation was in 2017.

“Hitch has a six-year lifespan,” said Meg Townsend, an attorney with the Center for Biodiversity. “So what’s developing right before our eyes is the equivalent of a human family being childless for 50 years.”

But until his fate is known for certain, Michael Fris, field officer at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, said it was unlikely his agency would list the disruption as an emergency.

“We already treat disruption as a species of high conservation importance,” he said. “Although the research data shows really low population numbers, we believe the disruptions are very unlikely to disappear in the near future.”

The agency is expected to make a final decision on whether to list the disruptions by 2025, which some argue may be too late to save the species.

This type of talk has prompted the Center for Biological Diversity to take emergency enlistment requests to Haaland with the Big Valley Band of the Pomo Indians, the Robinson Rancheria Band of the Pomo Indians, the Scotts Valley Band of the Pomo Indians, and Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake. shipped it. .

Everyone involved agrees that seeking intervention under the federal Endangered Species Act is an act of desperation. Only two species have been placed on the federal endangered emergency list in the past 20 years: the Miami blue butterfly in 2011 and Nevada’s Dixie Valley frog earlier this year.

Unlike many endangered species wars in the past, this war does not involve a charismatic creature such as the bald eagle, otter or spotted owl that has been weakened and cornered by human progress.

The connecting piece is a 12-inch-long minnow found only in and around California’s oldest, largest, and perhaps most polluted and wildfire-prone watershed. In 2020, the Lake County area was charred by six of the 20 largest wildfires in the state’s history.

Spring-fed Clear Lake, despite its name, is as fuzzy as pea soup. Up to eight miles wide and 25 miles long, it is the largest natural lake in California. In summer, the water is as hot as 78 degrees and is surrounded by slimy green algae blooms that rise to the surface and decay.

An emergency list is likely to have immediate consequences for Lake County residents.

It was unfortunate that during February, March and April sufficient stream flow was needed to walk from the lake to the spawning beds, while at the same time agricultural interests needed water to defrost vineyards.

“The emergency list forces people to consider alternatives to the way water is used in this region,” said Sarah Ryan, environmental director of the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians.

Beyond water flows, the possibility of disruption to be placed on the emergency list raises other economically important issues linked to the lake’s food chain: Zooplankton is eaten by shad, crayfish and hitch favored by monster catfish and largemouth bass.

Clear Lake entrepreneurs host dozens of professional bass tournaments each year, supported by competitors from around the world.

The most popular baits at local tackle shops are hitch replicas, which cost up to $180 each. Other baits are made to look like juvenile hitchhikes and are sold with a tagline that some people consider mocking the creature’s cultural significance to the Pomo people: “All American Trashfish.”

At Clearlake Outdoors, a sporting goods store at the southern end of the lake, old-timers still talk about how local kids have a “hitchhiking” tradition, killing them by hitchhiking with baseball bats for fun while going out to the rivers to lay eggs. spring.

They also grumble at the thought of new special protections for non-game fish that interrupt human entertainment for any reason, including the rhythmic journeys of hitchhiking.

After all, environmentalists say they’ve long complained about how fishing tournaments enforce “catch-and-release” rules – returning big bass to the lake so they can be fed without further disruption.

“The reason our basses get so big is because they love to hitchhike,” said David Burress, owner of Clearlake Outdoors.

“I mean, clients ask me, ‘Where can I get the biggest press of my life?’ he added, “I’m sending them to hitchhiking places.”

This kind of banter and lore shows that unless government agencies give in to Native American concerns, they tend toward a reckoning of complex and competing values.

“The fact that some people make fun of hitchhiking makes me wonder what they think of the people who eat them,” complained Robert Geary, director of cultural resources for Upper Lake Habematolel Pomo.

In essence, the Pomo people were here first, and unlike many immigrants, they did not see their indigenous attitudes and lifestyles as a disposable price for living in America.

But their modern history is mostly told through economic hardship, robberies, massacres and environmental destruction.

One cold, rainy morning recently, Montez walked with a cane along a stream where his ancestors had hitchhiked every spring for more than 11,000 years without interruption.

What they saw and felt caused their people to feel that the little piece of Earth was out of balance.

“Not just lakes and streams,” he said, studying the ripples with undisguised anger and frustration.

“We’ve never had so many cases of overdose, suicide, murder, cancer and diabetes,” he said. “I know this because as a spiritual leader, I’ve only been asked to lead 50 funerals this year – more than ever before.

“Our people believe the creator is sending a message,” he added. “We have to try harder to do things the right way.”

2022 Los Angeles Times.
It is distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Quotation: With a sacred minnow on the brink of extinction, Clear Lake Native Americans call for a bold plan (Dec 2022, December 6) from https://phys.org/news/2022-12-sacred-minnow-nears-extinction- December 6, 2022′ was also taken. local.html

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