Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

For Immediate Release: January 11, 2002

For More Information Please Contact Peter Galvin at (520) 907-1533



Los Angeles - The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit today in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles against the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for their failure to designate ‘Critical Habitat’ under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the unarmored threespine stickleback, a rare and highly endangered fish species that occurs only in northwestern Los Angeles County and one location in Santa Barbara County.

The unarmored threespine stickleback was listed as endangered in 1970. “Critical Habitat” was formally proposed for the species in 1980 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), with the proposed designation consisting of approximately 30 river miles along the Santa Clara River, San Francisquito Creek and Soledad Canyon in Los Angeles County and also include San Antonio Creek on the Vandenberg Air Force base in western Santa Barbara County. The ESA gives FWS (a branch of the Dept. of Interior) one yea r to finalize a Critical Habitat designation after it has been proposed for a species. Under the law the FWS should have finalized the Critical Habitat proposal by 1981, making the final rule more than 20 years overdue.

‘Critical Habitat’ under the ESA is defined as “areas essential for survival and recovery of a species.” Critical Habitat adds an additional important layer of protection for endangered wildlife. Under the ESA, federal agencies are barred from granting permits and funding or authorizing activities that would adversely modify or destroy the habitat areas.

Peter Galvin, Conservation Biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity, stated, “the unarmored threespine stickleback was once a common fish species in the L.A. area, but today it is on the verge of extinction. The stickleback’s demise has paralleled the loss of water quality and outright destruction of the vast majority of the rivers and streams of southern California.” Galvin added, “the stickleback’s last stronghold is the upper Santa Clara River, a river that is currently under increasing threats from rampant urban sprawl, water pumping and a massive proposed gravel mine in Soledad Canyon.”

The Center is represented in the case by attorneys Brent Plater and Kassie Siegel.


Common Name: Unarmored Threespine Stickleback
Scientific Name: Gasterosteus aculeatus williamsoni
Status: Endangered
Federal Register: 35 FR 16047 (Oct. 13, 1970)

The unarmored threespine stickleback is a small, scaleless, freshwater fish originally described from the headwaters of the Santa Clara River in northwestern Los Angeles County, California. Previously found also in low gradient portions of the nearby Los Angeles, San Gabriel and Santa Ana Rivers, and from a few localities in Santa Barbara County, California, it has been eliminated from most of its original range. It was reported in 1917 to be abundant throughout the Los Angeles basin. By 1942 it was no longer found, and believed to be extinct there.

Adults are about 1 inch in length. Stickleback are a greenish-gray color with a pinkish-silver belly. Males are reddish, or may turn red at breeding time to attract females. They use plant material to construct small nests in the streams for their eggs and young, secreting a mucousy substance to glue the nest together. Adults will protect the nest and eggs from predators. An enemy is the African clawed frog which is a non-native species.

The 1980 proposed Critical Habitat designation includes three stream zones of the upper Santa Clara River watershed in northwestern Los Angeles County, California, including a zone near Del Valle, one in San Francisquito Canyon, and one in Soledad Canyon; and the lower segment of San Antonio Creek on the Vandenberg Air Force Military Reservation in Santa Barbara County, California.

(1) Del Valle zone. Santa Clara beginning at its confluence with San Martinez Grande Canyon, at a point .9 of a mile southwest of Del Valle settlement, and extending upstream approximately 5.6 miles to the overcrossing of Interstate Highway 5.

(2) San Francisquito Canyon zone. San Francisquito Canyon watercourse beginning at a point where the Angeles National Forest boundary intersects the San Francisquito Canyon watercourse approximately 2 ½ miles southwest of San Francisquito Powerhouse No. 2, and extending upstream in San Francisquito Canyon approximately 8.4 miles to San Francisquito Powerhouse No. 1, near its junction with Clearwater Canyon.

(3) Soledad Canyon zone. Santa Clara River beginning at a point 1.4 miles upstream in Soledad Canyon from the community of Lang, at the downstream end of the area called River's End Park thence extending upstream approximately 8.5 miles to its confluence with Arrastre Canyon, at a point located about .6 of a mile southwest of Los Angeles County Rehabilitation Camp, thence upstream in Arrastre Canyon approximately .8 of a mile.

(4) San Antonio Creek Zone. San Antonio Creek watercourse, beginning at the Pacific Ocean beach boundary and including natural dunes or sandbars in the stream mouth thence upstream approximately 8.4 miles in Barka Slough.


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