To the editor:

Ralph Looney's commentary in the April 4 issue of the Deseret News about the need for greater flexibility in the Endangered Species Act contained several inaccuracies.Looney refers to the Colorado squawfish as a "worthless pest of a fish." To the contrary, the Colorado squawfish is a spectacular animal that is an important part of our natural and cultural heritage. For more than 2 million years, the Colorado squawfish reigned as the top predator of the Colorado River.

Historically, the fish reached weights of up to 80 pounds, lengths of more than 6 feet and ages of 50 or more. Early settlers called the fish the white salmon, the Colorado salmon or just salmon because of its large size, silver color and long migrations.

Scientific research has shown that each species in an ecosystem has a unique purpose. Losing one species can cause a chain reaction affecting a series of other species.

Looney's claim that endangered Colorado squawfish are "thriving like the plague in streams all over Colorado" is incorrect. Historically, the Colorado squawfish was abundant throughout the Colorado River Basin from Wyoming to the Gulf of California. Today, hundreds of water projects built on the Colorado River and its tributaries have restricted the fish to 25 percent of its original range. As few as 10,000 adult Colorado squawfish are now thought to exist in the wild, and natural (not stocked) populations exist in the Upper Colorado River Basin only. In Colorado, the squawfish is found in only relatively small numbers in lower reaches of the White, Yampa and Colorado rivers. Even here its range and numbers have been curtailed by the introduction of non-native sport fish, the construction of dams and the alteration of natural river flows by hydropower, irrigation and other uses.

But there is hope for recovery of the Colorado squawfish and other endangered fishes in the Colorado River. The Recovery Program for Endangered Fish Species in the Upper Colorado River Basin has the support of the Department of Interior; Western Area Power Administration; states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming; and several major environmental groups and water development organizations.

The purpose of the program is to recover the endangered Colorado River fishes while allowing for further water development in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado. The program is a unique example of how a broad-based coalition of competing interests can work to implement the Endangered Species Act through collaboration, not confrontation.

It also demonstrates that the Endangered Species Act has adequate flexibility to accommodate the legitimate needs for water development and recovery of endangered fish. That flexibility, which Looney contends is missing from the act, is available to those who are committed to examining competing needs with a creative and open mind.

John Hamill, director

Colorado River Recovery Program

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service