Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 25, 2016

Contact:  Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 490-0223,
Dan Silver, Endangered Habitats League, (323) 804-2750,  

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Rare California Fish, Endangered Mammal  

Management of Santa Ana River, Seven Oaks Dam Threatens Species' Survival

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Endangered Habitats League today announced their intent to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its failure to assess harm to federally protected Santa Ana sucker fish and San Bernardino kangaroo rats.

Santa Ana sucker
Santa Ana sucker photo by Paul Barrett, USFWS. This photo is available for media use.

In violation of the Endangered Species Act, the Corps has never consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the effects of management of Santa Ana River flood-control projects, including operation of the Seven Oaks Dam, on the Santa Ana sucker fish and its federally designated critical habitat. It also has not considered new information, including changes in dam operations.   

“These iconic Southern California animals are on a downward slide toward extinction,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist with the Center. “The Army Corps needs to follow the law and do its duty to the American people by consulting with the Fish and Wildlife Service to identify and remedy any harm resulting from mismanagement of the Santa Ana River.”

Managing the Santa Ana River to enhance the wildlife that depends on it also helps to ensure water quality and quantity for the people who depend on the river.

“Keeping the system as natural as possible allows for water infiltration and purification. We can successfully combine flood control with preserving wildlife values and the citizen’s natural heritage,” said Dan Silver, executive director of Endangered Habitats League.

The Army Corps and Fish and Wildlife Service originally consulted on impacts to the endangered Santa Ana River woolly star plant and the San Bernardino kangaroo rat in 2002. But new critical habitat was designated for the Santa Ana sucker fish in 2010, and the Corps has never considered the effects of the overall operation of the Santa Ana River Project on the species.

In addition, the operation and management of the Santa Ana River Project and its Seven Oaks Dam have changed in the intervening 14 years, and more changes are proposed. The Corps has also failed to meet its original commitment to provide controlled flood releases to benefit downstream habitat for the San Bernardino kangaroo rat. All of these changed circumstances must be re-evaluated by the agencies.

The Santa Ana sucker is a small, olive-gray fish found in clear, cool, rocky pools of creeks, as well as gravelly bottoms of permanent streams with slight to swift currents. Many of these streams are naturally subject to severe seasonal flooding, which can decimate resident fish populations. The Santa Ana sucker’s adaptations enable it to repopulate its birth streams rapidly after such unpredictable events. The fish eats primarily algae, which it searches out with the large lips that gave it its common name. The species was well distributed throughout the Los Angeles, San Gabriel and San Bernardino rivers historically, where it has vanished from nearly 95 percent of its historic range since the 1970s and is now relegated to only a few stream stretches.

The San Bernardino kangaroo rat is a small, seed-eating animal with large hind legs that it uses to hop around on like a kangaroo, which is how it got its name. It lives along the banks of creeks and streams where it is helps to re-establish plants and habitat after floods by collecting and distributing seeds of local shrubs and flowers and trimming vegetation. It is found only in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, although it was much more widespread just 50 years ago. Much of its habitat has been developed, so it has been relegated to the flood channels and adjacent banks of unchannelized streams.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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