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For Immediate Release, November 24, 2009    

Contacts: Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495

Protection Sought for Colorado River Cutthroat Trout Under the Endangered Species Act
Rare Trout Was Denied Protection Based on Flawed Bush Policy

DENVER— The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit today challenging a June 13, 2007 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denying the Colorado River cutthroat trout protection under the Endangered Species Act. The decision relied on a flawed Bush-era policy that allowed the agency to look only at current range when considering whether the trout is endangered.

“The Colorado River cutthroat trout has been lost from most of its range and needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The only reason the trout was denied protection was because of a Bush policy that called for ignoring a species’ lost historic range when determining whether a species is endangered.”   

The Bush policy relates to the definition of the term endangered under the Endangered Species Act, which specifies that a species will be considered endangered if it is “in danger of extinction in all or a significant of portion of its range.” The phrase “significant portion of its range” is important, because it means that species need not be at risk of extinction globally to receive protection.

The Bush-era policy, which was issued by the solicitor of the Department of the Interior, specified that when determining whether a species is endangered in a significant portion of its range, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should only consider current and not historic range — effectively chopping protection off at the knees. The policy and its impact on decisions to list species, including the trout, was recently discussed in a peer-reviewed study in the international journal Conservation Biology.  

“The Colorado River cutthroat trout was denied protection even though the Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged that it has been lost from 87 percent of its historic range and continues to face threats from habitat degradation, nonnative trout, and increasingly climate change,” said Greenwald. “This is an absurd result that threatens the survival of this unique and beautiful fish.”

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.

“The decision to deny the trout protection was typical of the Bush administration’s efforts to limit protection for endangered species,” said Greenwald. “We hope the Obama administration will revoke the damaging Bush policy on ‘significant portion of range’ language, which misinterpreted the law in order to hobble protection, and reconsider listing the trout.”

One of the most spectacular of the colorful cutthroat trout, the Colorado River cutthroat has a crimson belly and distinct black spots covering the tail, sides, and back. It was historically found in portions of Wyoming Colorado, Utah, and extreme northern New Mexico and Arizona.

The Center is represented by attorneys Neil Levine and Jim Dougherty.

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