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As a sacred minnow nears extinction, Native Americans of Clear Lake call for bold plan

Louis Sahagún, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

LAKEPORT, Calif. — Spring runs of a large minnow numbering in the millions have nourished Pomo Indians since they first made their home alongside Northern California’s Clear Lake more than 400 generations ago.

The Clear Lake hitch glinted like silver dollars as they headed up the lake’s tributaries to spawn, a reliable squirming crop of plenty, steeped in history and tasty when salted and dried like jerky.

In all that time, the hitch’s domain, about 110 miles northwest of Sacramento, had never suffered the degradation of recent years.

Now, with a growing sense of sorrow, if not anger, the Pomo Indian tribes of Clear Lake are watching the symbol of abundance and security they call chi dwindle into extinction.

On Monday, they took the rare and drastic step of urging Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to use her emergency powers and invoke the federal Endangered Species Act on behalf of the Clear Lake hitch.

“Bringing the chi back will require a bold plan of action devised by people with the power to move mountains,” said Ron Montez, tribal historic preservation officer for the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians.

 

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

A favorable turn came on Nov. 3, when the California Fish and Game Commission urged U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams to list the imperiled fish on an emergency basis.

The Clear Lake hitch was designated as a threatened species under California’s Endangered Species Act in 2014. Since then, however, its numbers have fallen to near zero, according to recent surveys.

“Federal protections would offer additional financial and agency resources,” the commission said, and require recovery of crucial habitat. It would also prohibit harm or harassment of the species, which is not currently required under state endangered species law.

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