LOGAN - Northern Utah officials have agreed to promote unlimited population growth by okaying several new schools - schools of fish, that is.
The state Division of Wildlife Resources recently baited the Cache County Council with a proposal to reintroduce a small minnow - the least chub - that is only found in the Beehive State and is considered a state-sensitive species.
The council agreed to the proposal last week.
"It wouldn't be anything more than taking a bucketful, dumping them in and saying, 'Here you go - reproduce!' " said DWR aquatics biologist Aaron Webber.
The species once thrived in springs and stream systems in the Bonneville Basin, including the Bear River system in Cache County, Webber said. Currently, though, there are only six known least chub populations remaining in the wild.
"The last record of them naturally occurring was in the late 1800s, but people may not have been looking for them," Webber said. "The Bear River, before the settlers got here, had a completely different composition [of fish]. Everything in there right now probably wasn't there 100 years ago."
Webber and his colleagues successfully reintroduced the least chub in Box Elder County, where a school of 200 has multiplied to thousands, he said, adding that more sites are needed to ensure that the least chub does not become federally listed as an endangered species.
Locations under consideration for reintroduction of least chub include ponds at the American West Heritage Center in Wellsville and at the Willow Park Zoo in Logan. Both sites could function as educational settings for teaching the public about native-fish conservation.
Most of the suitable refuges for the least chub to be reintroduced in Cache County are on private property, Webber said.
Cache County Council Executive Lynn Lemon said he is concerned that if the least chub does become federally listed, environmental restrictions could become troublesome, and the rights of participating property owners could be impaired.
Webber responded, saying, "Environmentalists that want to list the species definitely could try for that." His agency is drafting a document to protect participants.
"This agreement basically says that if a species is put on a person's property, if it becomes federally listed in the future, the government cannot make the landowner change any land-management practices," Webber said.
Landowners can also request removal of the fish from their property if desired, he said.
The least chub has a vast team angling for its survival, including the Bureau of Reclamation and Land Management, the Utah Reclamation Mitigation and Conservation Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation.