A new effort to restore the native ‘June Sucker’ is underway

Apr 26, 2022, 10:56 AM | Updated: Jun 20, 2022, 1:58 pm

UTAH COUNTY – A major step in recovering Utah’s threatened June Suckers to Utah Lake is about to begin. Starting in May the historic Skipper Bay dike will be lowered as part of the 260 acre Provo River Delta Restoration Project, a multi-agency effort to restore the fish to its native habitat.

“It only lives in Utah Lake, it’s the only place in the whole world,” says Melissa Stamp, Projects Manager for Utah Reclamation Mitigation and Conservation Commission. “And it is only one of two native fish species left in Utah Lake because so many non-native species have been introduced over the years.”

Thanks to two decades of restoration efforts in Utah, the June Sucker has been downgraded from endangered to threatened, meaning it was no longer in danger of extinction, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but now the fish needs a safe habitat where it can spawn and thrive on its own.

“We’re hoping this is one of the last habitat puzzle pieces that needs to be fixed to allow this fish to once again recruiting in the wild without needing to stock fish into the lake, which is how the population has rebounded thus far,” Stamp said.

By lowering the dike and reconnecting the flood plain with the Provo River the area will be restored to a wetland habitat for the young fish.

“A lot of what gets provided when you reconnect a flood plain and reconnect a lake is a lot of eco system services, it’s a sponge that absorbs flood waters, and the vegetation in these wetlands, it uptakes nutrients and pollutants and creates healthier water conditions,” Stamp said.

Utah Lake and the Provo River should be connected through the delta area between November 2022 and January of 2023. Wildlife experts who toured the area as part of the Network Van Tour say they’re excited by the progress of the project.

“What we’re seeing here is Utah taking back control of something that was put in place a long time ago when we really didn’t understand the way ecosystems and species interacted and bringing it back to a condition where nature can thrive,” Sean O’Brien, CEO and President of NatureServe said. NatureServe is a non-profit organization that provides wildlife conversation-related data for projects like the Provo River Delta Restoration Project.

Currently a hatchery in Logan produces tens of thousands of June Suckers that are stocked in Utah Lake each year but the hope is that when the restoration project is finished in 2024 the fish will thrive on its own.

“80% of the June suckers in Utah Lake go up the Provo River on a given year, so this is really the stream were hoping to tie things together and allow them to recruit on their own, reproduce on their own and eventually allow the June Sucker Recovery team to show they don’t need protection under the endangered species act anymore,” Paul Thompson, Division of Wildlife Resources said.

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A new effort to restore the native ‘June Sucker’ is underway