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California's Drought Pushes Tiny Fish Toward Extinction

Amy Quinton/Capital Public Radio

Amy Quinton/Capital Public Radio

Rebecca Quinones with the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences walks  through thick brush in the Red Hills Mountain range of Tuolumne County.

“I’m here at the shores of Horton Creek, and I’m using a dip net to collect some of the roach that we’re seeing,” Quinones says.

Roach, as in the Red Hills Roach. It’s a small minnow-like fish that lives in a unique and uninviting environment:  small warm creeks with nutrient-poor soil.


“With three years of drought these streams can become very inhospitable for the native fishes," says Quinones. "So what we’re trying to document is not only the change in habitats but also how the fish communities are responding.”

Quinones visited 15 creeks in the area this week, two-thirds of them were dry. UC Davis Fish biologist Peter Moyle.

“So that gave me great concern that these fish could be on the verge of extinction, but it still you look at it this is a very restricted habitat,” says Moyle.


The stream is about three feet wide and about eight inches deep. But it looks more like a big puddle. Moyle was pleasantly surprised not only to find the creek, but plenty of Red Hill Roaches.

“Which is exciting, I’m glad they’re here. You can see the little fish. I was worried about this we might actually get good news,” says Moyle. 


It is good news, especially in a third year of drought.

“But I’m looking at the abundance the relative abundance of these fish, there’s just not many of them," says Quinones. "In a stream this size, that has water and we’re still in August, I would have expected to see more than what we’re seeing. “

Their research also shows with climate change about 82 percent of California’s native fish species are at risk of extinction in the next 100 years.

 droughtextinctUC DavisRed Hills Roach

Amy Quinton

Former Environment Reporter

Amy came to Sacramento from New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR) where she was Environment Reporter. Amy has also reported for NPR member stations WFAE in Charlotte, WAMU in Washington D.C. and American Public Media's "Marketplace."  Read Full Bio 

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