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North American green sturgeon
Appeal-Democrat, October 9, 2009

New river protection for green sturgeon
By Howard Yune

New federal protections are on the way next month to shield the embattled green sturgeon in the Mid-Valley and much of the West Coast.

Officials with the National Marine Fisheries Service have announced the agency will designate the Sacramento, Feather and Yuba rivers as critical habitat for the green sturgeon, an ancient and slow-breeding fish species. Other new critical habitat areas will cover rivers and bays from Monterey north to Grays Harbor, Wash., when the order takes effect Nov. 9.

The protections were announced Friday in the Federal Register.

The designation requires federal agencies to consult with the fisheries service before starting or allowing activities that could shrink or affect sturgeon habitat.

The designation does not require removal of any existing dams or structures within critical habitat zones, said Chris Yates, director of the federal agency's Protected Resources Office in Long Beach. Thus, the Yuba County Water Agency can continue operating Bullards Bar Dam and four powerhouses in the Yuba River.

Dam construction in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has blocked large swaths of the migration route for green sturgeon, which spawn in North State rivers and return to them from the Pacific Ocean every two or three years. The slow-growing fish need about 17 years to mature — reaching lengths up to 7 feet — and can live as long as 70 years.

The upper Sacramento River south of Keswick Dam is the last known breeding ground for the fish's southern population, one of the species' two main groups.

A lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity against the fisheries service argued that sturgeon populations have fallen by 95 percent since 2001, leading to a 2007 settlement that paved the way to the expanded habitat protections.


Areas the National Marine Fisheries Service plans to declare critical habitat for the green sturgeon include:

• Yuba River: 11.5 miles, from the Feather River to Daguerre Point Dam

• Feather River: 72.7 miles, from the Sacramento River to Oroville Dam

• Sacramento River: 241 miles, from the I Street Bridge in Sacramento to Keswick Dam

• Sutter Bypass: 23.5 square miles

• Yolo Bypass: 112 square miles

• Pacific Coast: from Monterey north to Cape Flattery, Wash.

Copyright © 2009 Freedom Communications

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton