Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places of western North America
and the Pacific through science, policy, education, and environmental law.

July 10, 2001

Contact: David Hogan, Center for Biological Diversity 619 523.1498
Jim Edmondson, California Trout, 818 865.2888
More Information: Goldenstate Biodiversity Initiative


Four conservation and scientist groups today notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of their intent to seek a contempt of court order over the agency’s failure to protect “critical habitat” for an endangered Los Angeles-area fish, the Santa Ana sucker.

Critical habitat is one of the strongest provisions of the Endangered Species Act because it extends federal protections to not just individuals of a listed species, but also to their declining habitat.

Fish and Wildlife agreed in a November 2000 court approved settlement to publish a final critical habitat decision for the sucker no later than January 2001. “It appears as if Bush will do just about anything, including ignoring a court order, to limit protection of endangered wildlife,” said David Hogan, Rivers Program Coordinator for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Today’s notice is just the latest step to compel a reluctant agency to protect the sucker and important southern California river habitat under the Endangered Species Act. Citizen efforts started with a listing petition in 1994, followed by lawsuits when the Fish and Wildlife Service refused to respond, and ultimately the November 2000 settlement. “Fish and Wildlife drags its feet, leaving citizens to do the job for them with petitions and lawsuits, “ said Jim Edmondson of California Trout. “The agency’s argument that it is underfunded and understaffed falls flat when it refuses to ask Congress for more resources.”

Critical habitat has been designated by Fish and Wildlife for only 12% of all species listed as threatened or endangered, despite an Endangered Species Act mandate that it be identified for all species at the time of listing. Critical habitat was routinely designated by the Fish and Wildlife Service until 1986 when Reagan officials reworked its formal definition so as to render it virtually meaningless. Fish and Wildlife officials have refused to designate critical habitat ever since, citing the Reagan-era definition in their claim that it provides few protections above and beyond those provided by listing.

The Santa Ana sucker was once one of the most common fish in lower elevation Los Angeles basin rivers and streams. The species is now absent from 75% of its historic range as a result of urbanization and water pollution, and is now limited to only short stretches of the Santa Clara, San Gabriel and Santa Ana rivers and Big Tujunga Creek. The sucker is a small fish, rarely growing above 6 inches in length. Because the sucker requires clean water to survive, the species serves as a prime indicator of the water quality of southern California rivers and streams.

Groups sending the notice include the American Fisheries Society, California Trout, the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the River.


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