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For Immediate Release, September 17, 2012

Contact:  Timothy Ream, (415) 632-5315

Suit Filed to Protect Rare Greenback Cutthroat Trout

Off-road Vehicles Threaten Survival of Colorado's State Fish

DENVER— The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit in federal court today against the Pike and San Isabel National Forest to protect rapidly declining populations of greenback cutthroat trout, federally protected as threatened since 1978, from off-road vehicle use. According to the lawsuit, the national forest is harming Colorado’s state fish by allowing ORVs on trails adjacent to Bear Creek, located just west of Colorado Springs and one of the last places where the native trout can be found. The ORVs are causing severe erosion, polluting the stream and severely harming the valuable trout.  

Ringed seal
Greenback cutthroat trout photo courtesy EPA. Photos are available for media use.

“The Endangered Species Act couldn’t be clearer. You can’t authorize a motorcycle playground in greenback cutthroat trout habitat without bothering to ask how it’s going to affect the fish,” said Tim Ream, a Center attorney. “The folks at the Pike and San Isabel National Forest seem to feel the Endangered Species Act doesn’t apply to them.”

A recent habitat assessment, commissioned by the national forest itself, shows erosion from ORV trails is destroying trout habitat by filling deepwater pools the fish need to survive winter and drought and to hide from predators. ORVs can also spread diseases and start wildfires. According to the Colorado Division of Wildlife, greenback in Bear Creek are in steep decline.

The Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study possible impacts of federal actions on endangered and threatened species. In documents filed in federal court last year, the national forest admitted that it did not consult with the Service before authorizing ORV use in Bear Creek, claiming that the law didn’t apply in this case.

“The Forest Service has known for years it has a serious ORV erosion problem at Bear Creek,” Ream said. “This beautiful cutthroat, the state fish, is a unique piece of the identity and history of Colorado — it’s hard to understand why it’s being treated this way.”

The Center for Biological Diversity has proposed rerouting the ORV trail out of Bear Creek — something the national forest has admitted would be relatively easy — and closing the trail to ORV use in the meantime. Bear Creek ORV trails also run through land owned by the Colorado Springs Utility. Neither the national forest nor the utility has acted. The Center has notified the utility that it is illegally affecting trout, and may bring legal action later this year.

“We’ve tried to be reasonable with the national forest, simply asking it to close the trail while it takes an action it’s already admitted is needed: moving this destructive ORV trail,” Ream said. “But they’ve effectively told us the only way they’re going to comply with the law is if a federal judge orders them to. That’s a sad failure.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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