2/9/2001 -- -- By COLLEEN VALLES
Associated Press Writer
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) A leading fish conservation group warned Thursday it will sue the federal government to get California's state fish on the endangered species list, bypassing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's moratorium on adding new species. Trout Unlimited, the leading coldwater conservation organization in North America, has already skipped a step getting ``threatened'' status for the California golden trout and has gone directly to seeking ``endangered'' status.
The group has gone directly for the ``endangered'' designation because it fears the fish will become extinct, largely due to hybridization, or breeding with other species of trout, in its two native Sierra Nevada watersheds.
Trout Unlimited filed the petition to get the trout listed in October, which meant it would be up for consideration Jan. 14. As of Thursday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had not responded to the listing petition, so the organization filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue to make sure the service does look at it. ``I think as the fish stand right now, I think there's absolutely no doubt they should be listed,'' said Steve Trafton, policy coordinator for Trout Unlimited. ``There are hybrids and non-native fish in their habitat with them right now, and their habitat is being impacted as well.''
Pat Foulk, a spokeswoman with the Fish and Wildlife Service, said she wasn't sure when they would get to look at the petition. ``We're not surprised because the issue did come up a while ago that Trout Unlimited did feel the species was in trouble,'' she said. ``We are operating under guidance that we can't take on any more work. Our workload is being completely lawsuit driven, so we'll have to evaluate with our Washington office on when we'll get an opportunity to work on this.''
The Fish and Wildlife Service's moratorium is expected to last at least until October 2002.
But at least one step has been taken that will help the fish, Trafton said. The Forest Service in Inyo National Forest has decided to suspend grazing rights for 10 years on two of its grazing allotments in the park. The two allotments are in the immediate vicinity of the trout's habitat.
``I think there's a lot of reasons for hope that we're going to solve many of the golden trout's problems in the next few months,'' he said. ``But until the problems are solved, we think the petition needs to be there.''
The golden trout, known for their fight and brilliant coloring, are found only in the South Fork Kern River and in Golden Trout Creek, south of Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevada. The native species grow to about 10 inches, and hybrids have been stocked in streams around the world.