By JEFF DURBIN, Missourian staff writer

January 25, 1999


When you think of endangered species, tigers in India come to mind. Cheetahs and rhinoceroses in Africa. Wolves and peregrine falcons in the American West. Topeka shiners in Boone County.

Topeka shiners?

Right here in Boone County?

The shiner is a fish about three inches long, silver with a dark stripe. There used to be large numbers of them in small streams around the Midwest. They still swim in some creeks in Boone County, but in 1995 a biologist counted only 12 adult shiners in area streams.

The problem is that the shiner needs water that is clear, clean and cool. But Columbia, like any city, has streets, parking lots and buildings under construction. That means sand, dirt, oil and lawn chemicals wash into streams. Also, soil can drain off farm fields into creeks and streams.

It adds up to a tough life for a Topeka shiner.

The good news is that since Jan. 14, the shiner has been protected by the government. Now a big construction project will have to show that it won't harm the fish by making streams dirty. The government will also help farmers make sure the soil on their fields stays there instead of going into creeks.

Biologists will study the shiner to find other ways they can help save it. Shiners in other parts of Missouri are healthier than our local ones. In the future, if the shiner population in Boone County doesn't go up, some fish from Moniteau Creek may be brought here to add to the streams in Boone County.

The shiner also lives in Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota, states where there once were prairies. The government and biologists are working on shiner recovery in those states, too.

Protecting the shiner will also help other fish and creatures that live in the same streams. Trees and plants along stream banks will be needed to hold soil in place so it doesn't fall into the water. People will have to be more careful when building bridges, roads or houses. These are some of the ways that helping the shiner makes the environment better for everyone.

The story of the shiner tells us that we need to clean up the streams for ourselves. If streams are too dirty and unhealthy for the shiner, the water probably isn't good for us, either. The Topeka shiner, like other endangered species, is a warning that nature needs some first-aid treatment.