Would you want to see this little guy go extinct?

Pity the poor mudpuppy.

These foot-long salamanders spend their entire lives scrounging around the bottom of lakes and streams. They have almost no contact with humans other than as curiosities and objects of study, pose no threat, nor do they add to the regional economy. They are an important part of the food chain, feeding on whatever they happen to come across, and in turn,
becoming a food source for herons and similar birds and larger fishes.

Wildlife biologists in Vermont say their figures show that the species is in danger of extinction and should be placed on the state’s endangered species list. The policymakers at Vermont Fish and Wildlife see it differently.

Mudpuppies share the same habitat with the larva of sea lampreys, a species native to Lake Champlain, but considered a nuisance because the adults attack popular game fish such as trout and land-locked salmon. State and federal wildlife officials have mounted an aggressive campaign to control the sea lampreys, which includes poisoning the larvae. It’s also been killing off the mudpuppies.

To the guardians of recreational fishermen, dead mudpuppies are considered unavoidable “collateral damage.” To those who value the region’s biodiversity, the program represents a serious threat to the ecosystem.

Putting the mudpuppy on the endangered species list means wildlife officials would have to a lot more careful about how they go about controlling the sea lampreys. These officials argue that the lamprey population is booming, and causing a lot of harm. They say other nontoxic methods of control are not as effective.

It’s the old story of competing interests. Without a doubt the lampreys are a nuisance, and recreational fishing is a large part of the Lake Champlain economy. The problem here is that the mudpuppies are disappearing, while lampreys continue to thrive. It’s always sad to see a species go into extinction, but even sadder if we push them there for no particular purpose.

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