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For Immediate Release, November 22, 2011

Contact:  Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 654-5943 or (323) 490-0223,
Nica Knite, California Trout, (619) 269-9207     
Drew Feldmann, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, (909) 881-6081
Kim Floyd, Sierra Club, (760) 680-9479

Lawsuit That Would Kill Endangered Fish Opposed by Conservation Groups

Water Agencies' Suit Would Strip Habitat Protections for Rare Santa Ana Sucker

LOS ANGELESFour conservation groups seek to formally intervene in a lawsuit filed by a dozen Southern California water agencies and towns against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which threatens to strip habitat protections for the federally threatened Santa Ana sucker. The groups — Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society and California Trout — intend to defend the agency’s science-based designation of critical habitat for the rare, unique Southern California fish. The groups had successfully challenged an earlier habitat designation by the agency that excluded a large portion of habitat essential to the sucker’s survival.

The Santa Ana sucker is a barometer of the state of its river,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center, which has been working to protect the sucker for more than a decade. “The current critical habitat for the sucker is not only the bare minimum the species needs to survive — it’s the bare minimum the river needs to survive.”

“We worked hard to force the government to use good science — and not dirty politics — in this determination, and now we’re forced to go back to work to make sure the 2010 rule stays in place,” said Nica Knite, Southern California Regional Manager for California Trout.

““The water agencies’ lawsuit attacking the 2010 designation has nothing to do with the species and everything to do with the unwillingness of the water agencies and developers to make reasonable accommodations for this species.” said Kim Floyd of the Sierra Club. “Protecting the Santa Ana sucker in its namesake river is essential to protecting the whole river, and thus everybody’s water supply.”

In December 2010 the Fish and Wildlife Service identified 9,331 acres along three Southern California rivers as critical habitat for the sucker and, importantly, included stretches of the Santa Ana River in Riverside and San Bernardino counties and its tributaries (the San Gabriel River and Big Tujunga Wash in Los Angeles County) that are currently occupied by the fish but had been removed from the previous flawed designation. The new designation resulted from a 2007 lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, which had argued that the previous designation was not scientifically sound and did not properly protect the species’ habitat. Adequate critical habitat is a clear benefit for the fish; studies have shown that species with critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as those without it.

“The important thing is the survival of this species, and that its habitat is protected not just for the fish, but also for the rare birds that call the Santa Ana River home and for all of us who live in this ecosystem,” said Drew Feldmann of the San Bernardino Valley Audubon. “Intervening in this suit seeks to ensure that the human water supply is protected as well.”

The Santa Ana sucker is a small, olive-gray fish found in clear, cool, rocky pools of creeks, as well as gravelly bottoms of 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 possesses adaptations that enable it to repopulate its birth streams rapidly after such events. The fish eats primarily algae, which it searches out with the large lips that gave it its common name. In the past the species was well distributed throughout the Los Angeles, San Gabriel and San Bernardino rivers, but it’s now relegated to only a few stream stretches.


The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Sierra Club is a national, nonprofit membership organization with over 700,000 members dedicated to exploring, enjoying, and protecting the wild places of the earth; to practicing and promoting the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; to educating and enlisting humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment

San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society is a California nonprofit public benefit corporation with 2.000 members which educates the public about the environment, planning and infrastructure issues, and takes action to protect the region’s natural heritage areas.

California Trout is a non-profit membership organization with more than 7,000 members dedicated to the protection and restoration of wild and native fish and their waters throughout California.   

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