A tiny fish, one that lives in a 90-degree hot spring within a limestone cave and whose fate once was pondered by the U.S. Supreme Court, is now the focus of a Death Valley National Park plan designed to help the species avoid extinction.
The Devil's Hole pupfish is something of an aquatic wonder, managing to live in a relatively small hot spring, one that denies them the ability to migrate up or down stream. Rather, they congregate in the spring, rising up to a small shelf of rock just beneath the water's surface both to feed and breed. While 40 acres around the spring, which isn't actually within the formal borders of Death Valley National Park but rather off to the east, were set aside in 1952 to protect the hot spring and its inhabitants, a fight over groundwater led to a 1976 Supreme Court ruling that the Park Service was entitled to a specific water right to maintain the hot spring for the fish.
Despite that protection, the population of the Devil's Hole pupfish, which is federally listed as an endangered species, has been on something of a roller coaster. In April 2006 just 38 adults were counted in the annual survey, while this past April the count had more than doubled, to roughly 70 individuals. "The fragility of the population," notes the National Park Service, "is due to a combination of several factors, many of which are inherent to the Devils Hole site. Specifically, the Devils Hole pupfish is vulnerable to changes in its habitat as it is restricted to a single water-filled cavern. Unlike most other fishes, the Devils Hole pupfish has no ability to migrate to fulfill its life history requirements or seek optimal habitats. If the habitat of Devils Hole changes to become less suitable, the Devils Hole pupfish population is likely to decline as a consequence."
With that in mind, the Park Service now is proposing to enhance security around the site through better fencing, improve natural water flows, increase viewing and interpretation opportunities for the general public, and make it easier for research on the pupfish to be conducted. Part of the preferred alternative calls for a live webcam feed to be displayed in the park's Visitor Center at Furnace Creek.
From now through September 18 you can comment on this proposal either by writing, via the Internet, or in person. On the Internet, if you visit http://parkplanning.nps.gov/publicHome.cfm and choose "Death Valley NP" from the drop-down menu and you'll be able to read the draft Environmental Assessment on the proposal and enter your comments on the site. Otherwise, you can send written comments to:
ATTN: Devils Hole Site Plan Comments
Death Valley National Park
1321 S. Highway 160, Suite 1
Pahrump, Nevada 89048
or via email to: [email protected].
You calso can obtain a paper or CD version of the draft EA by contacting the park. Paper copies will also be available for review at the public libraries in the towns of Pahrump, Nevada; Amargosa Valley, Nevada; Ridgecrest, California; Lone Pine, California; and Bishop, California.