MOAPA (AP) - A tiny endangered fish found only in streams flowing through a southern Nevada desert oasis is making a dramatic comeback.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports the population of the Moapa dace has more than doubled over the past year from 572 to 1,226, and it appears to be getting stronger.
The finger-length fish with a black spot on its tail has been federally protected for more than 40 years in the spring-fed streams at Warm Springs near Moapa, about 60 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
Service spokesman Dan Balduini told the Las Vegas Review-Journal ((http://bit.ly/UwfUBx ) it's the first time the annual February population count has exceeded the one they do in August when the fish's numbers tend to be highest. Biologists are optimistic this summer's count will be the best in years.
"Normally, we see a drop in the winter months," Balduini said. "It just bears out the importance of having that good, healthy habitat and more of it."
The agency's goal is to restore at least 75 percent of the dace's historic habitat and maintain a steady population of 6,000 adult fish.
The fish's entire habitat is confined to the Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuge, some adjacent private land and the Warm Springs Natural Area, a 1,218-acre tract owned by the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
Extensive work has been done in recent years to remove non-native predator fish and rebuild natural stream channels that were diverted decades ago to support ranches and resorts in the area. The thermal springs and streams form the headwaters of the Muddy River, which flows to the Colorado River at Lake Mead.
"It's encouraging," Balduini said of the latest count. "Let's just keep our fingers crossed that it keeps heading in the right direction."