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For Immediate Release, December 8, 2009
Contact: Ileene Anderson, (323) 654-5943 or 323-490-0223;

Feds Respond to Lawsuit Challenging Bush Species Corruption:
Propose 9,605 Protected Acres for Endangered Santa Ana Sucker

LOS ANGELES Responding to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, California Trout, the California Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, and Friends of the River, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will re-propose critical habitat for the federally threatened Santa Ana sucker fish in tomorrow’s federal register. The new proposal includes 9,605 acres of habitat in stretches of three Southern California rivers and their tributaries: the Santa Ana River (in San Bernardino, Riverside, and Orange counties), the San Gabriel River, and the Big Tujunga Wash (in Los Angeles County). This new proposal recognizes that the Santa Ana River, the namesake for the diminutive Santa Ana Sucker fish, in conjunction with the San Gabriel and Tujunga rivers, is essential to the persistence and recovery of this threatened species.

In 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated just 8,305 acres of habitat as critical to the survival of the fish, completely ignoring the occupied stretches of the Santa Ana River. The lawsuit that led to this new proposal challenged the Bush administration’s political interference in the scientific process in the 2005 designation.

This new designation that includes the Santa Ana River is an improvement over the previous designation by the Bush administration,” says Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “However, the fish is still in hot water, and in dire need of more habitat protection to allow for recovery.”

The Santa Ana sucker fish is a small, olive-gray fish that is found in clear, cool, rocky pools of creeks, as well as gravelly bottoms of permanent streams with slight to swift currents. Many of these streams are naturally subject to severe seasonal flooding, which can decimate resident fish populations. Yet the Santa Ana sucker fish possesses adaptations that enable it to repopulate its natal streams rapidly after such unpredictable events. It eats primarily algae, searching it out with its large lips, which is how it got its common name. The fish was well distributed throughout the Los Angeles, San Gabriel, and San Bernardino valley streams historically.

Recent surveys show that because of development and altered hydrology, among many other threats, the sucker fish is restricted to three non-contiguous populations in the middle part of the Santa Ana River, mostly in Riverside County, the east, west, and north forks of the San Gabriel River, and the lower part of Big Tujunga Creek in Los Angeles County.

“To have this little fish that is evolutionarily adapted to boom-and-bust cycles barely clinging to survival is a bellwether for the state of our local rivers and watersheds,” added Anderson. “The Fish and Wildlife Service must provide additional protection for this threatened species, based on the best available science.”

The Center for Biological Diversity has been actively working to overturn Bush-era decisions limiting protection for endangered species, including suing to overturn decisions affecting 54 species. To date, this campaign has been highly successful, with the Obama administration agreeing to reconsider 45 of the 54 decisions, including the critical habitat designation for the Santa Ana sucker.


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