The (4.5-) million dollar question is: Should it be?
Above: Four Devils Hole pupfish, photographed in 2010 by Olin Feuerbacher for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Today, there are fewer than 100 left.
The fish in question is the Devils Hole pupfish. One of the first species to be protected by the Endangered Species Preservation Act (now known as the Endangered Species Act), the unassuming, inch-long pupfish turned out to be a real rabble-rouser back in '60s and '70s, when defending the species and its hot, briny habitat – a 500-foot-deep aquifer in the Mojave Desert – led to water rights litigation that extended all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The pupfish won its SCOTUS case in 1976, solidifying its status as the nemesis of land developers (who would see its habitat, and the subterranean channels of groundwater to which that habitat is linked, put to use in ways entirely unrelated to the fish's survival), and the poster-fish of conservationists (who would see the species and its larger aquatic ecosystem protected).
Today, close to 40 years later, there are fewer than 100 Devils Hole pupfish still alive, and the U.S. Government is spending millions to see that they (or at least their offspring) stay that way. In a recent piece for onEarth, the magazine of the Natural Resources Defense Council, journalist Jason Bittel presents a compelling case in favor of the conservation of this, he concedes, "useless" species:
Long story short, here's a species that has survived in a tiny pit in the desert for 50,000 years, weathering periods of extreme flooding and drought, and enduring food shortages, earthquakes, lack of genetic diversity, and base temperatures hotter than most other fish on this planet can withstand. And now, in the last three decades, humans have messed up the global climate so much, so fast, that this little Rambo of a fish has finally been forced to put on Semisonic's "Closing Time" and start shuffling toward the door of oblivion. Are we really going to let that happen? Is that how we want to roll?