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Santa Ana sucker
Supreme Court won't disturb protections for Santa Ana sucker fish
By Janet Zimmerman
A years-long battle over habitat protections for the Santa Ana sucker fish came to an end Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a case brought by a dozen Inland water agencies.
The water districts have been fighting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s designation of 9,331 acres along the Santa Ana River in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, and a few waterways in Los Angeles County, as critical habitat for the fish.
Critical habitat is land deemed crucial to the survival of a species. While a critical habitat designation does not prohibit development, affect land ownership or create a refuge, it does require federal agencies that fund or permit activities on the land to consult with Fish and Wildlife to ensure critical habitat is not destroyed or adversely modified.
The districts said the designation was based on flawed science and did not comply with Fish and Wildlife’s obligations to cooperate with local agencies to resolve water resource issues and protect endangered species. It jeopardized billions of dollars in future water capture and groundwater recharge projects, they said.
To move those projects forward, 21 agencies are developing a habitat conservation plan for the upper Santa Ana River watershed. The plan will protect the fish while allowing the agencies to proceed with their projects, said Doug Headrick, general manager of the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, one of the agencies involved in the lawsuit.
“Of course we’re disappointed, but we weren’t waiting around for this decision. Some years ago we went down the path of developing a habitat conservation plan in cooperation with state and federal resource agencies,” he said.
As part of the conservation plan, Headrick’s district is planning to breed 1,500 of the fish in captivity to transplant in the San Bernardino Mountains, where they historically lived.
Environmentalists lauded the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case.
“This is a big win for the Santa Ana sucker,” said John Buse, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, which defended the critical habitat decision with three other agencies. “These protections will help make sure this tiny fish has a future, but they’ll also protect many other kinds of wildlife that depend on these rivers for their survival.”
The center and two other conservation groups began fighting in 1999 to protect the sucker, which has vanished from nearly 95 percent of its historic range. In 2000, the fish was listed as threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act.
Results are pending from a U.S. Geological Survey study of 18 sites on the Santa Ana River to determine the current sucker population. The fish live in a 2- to 3-mile stretch of the river between the Rialto Channel in Colton and the Mission Avenue bridge in Riverside.
Copyright © 2016 Orange County Register.
This article originally appeared here.