CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
For Immediate Release August 11th, 2005
GROUPS TO SUE TO PROTECT LOS ANGELES
Contact: David Hogan, 619 574-6800
Conservation groups have formally notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) of their intent to sue over the agency’s failure to protect essential “critical habitat” for the Santa Ana sucker fish along Riverside and Los Angeles area rivers. The groups are the American Fisheries Society, California Trout, Center for Biological Diversity, and Friends of the River.
Today’s notice is the latest step of many to compel a reluctant agency to protect the sucker and southern California rivers under the Endangered Species Act. Conservationists petitioned the Service in 1994 to list the species and filed a lawsuit when the petition was ignored. The Service listed the sucker as threatened in April of 2000 but deliberately excluded protection of the species’ habitat, prompting a new conservation lawsuit. The Service agreed in a settlement to identify critical habitat by January 2001, but then triggered another legal battle when it ignored the deadline. Citing the delays, a judge granted conservationist’s request to suspend Service permitting of harmful projects in the fish’s habitat. The Service finally designated 21,129 acres of critical habitat in February 2004 but then slashed the protections to just 8,305 acres in 2005 prompting today’s new lawsuit notice.
“The government has failed to protect any habitat for the Santa Ana sucker in the Santa Ana River basin, once again failing to take seriously its duty to protect this species,” said Lisa Belenky, attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Delayed habitat protection for the fish illustrate a much larger pattern of Bush administration efforts to undermine the Endangered Species Act. All we ask is that important river habitats be protected so this species can thrive.”
Many areas were unreasonably excluded from critical habitat when the Service concluded that the benefits of the Riverside MSHCP outweighed those of critical habitat protections. “Service claims that habitat protection would somehow harm collaborative conservation is a red herring,” said David Hogan, Urban Wildlands Program Director at the Center. “This is a case of the farmer asking the fox to guard the hen house. The Service is looking for any excuse to delegate management of the fish to the same local agencies responsible for the most harm to the species.”
Endangered Species Act “critical habitat” protections are an important tool to recover endangered species. A peer-reviewed study in the April 2005 issue of BioScience, “The Effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act: A Quantitative Analysis,” concludes that species with critical habitat for two or more years are more than twice as likely to have improving population trends than species without.
The Santa Ana sucker was once one of the most common fish in lower elevation Los Angeles area 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.
The Santa Ana sucker requires clean water to survive, so the species serves as a prime indicator of the water quality of southern California rivers and streams. “This lawsuit isn’t just about protecting fish,” said Hogan. “Habitat protections for the fish translate into very real benefits for people like reduced risk of floods, protection of drinking water, and increased property values near beautiful river forests.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to the protection of native species and their habitats. The Center works to protect and restore natural ecosystems and imperiled species through science, education, policy, and environmental law. The Center has over 13,000 members nationwide.