U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to Consider Listing California Golden Trout Under ESA
Agency formally determines Trout Unlimited listing petition has merit
Western Native Trout Program Director
9/20/2002 -- Sacramento -- Acting on a federal judge’s order, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) has found that a petition filed by the conservation organization Trout Unlimited to list the California state fish as endangered contains substantial information that a federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing may be warranted. Trout Unlimited is the nation’s largest trout and salmon conservation organization with over 8,000 California members and some 130,000 nationwide.
The decision, which was announced today by the USFWS, is the latest action in what has become a protracted legal struggle begun two years ago when Trout Unlimited first filed a petition to list the California golden trout as endangered.
“Today’s announcement by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is critically important to the future of the California golden trout,” said Scott Yates, Director of Trout Unlimited's Western Native Trout Program. “It means we are one step closer to saving this magnificent fish from extinction.”
In the fall of 2000, Trout Unlimited petitioned the USFWS to list the California golden trout under the Endangered Species Act. By law, the USFWS is required to make a finding – within 90 days after receiving such a petition – as to whether the petition presented substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the listing might be warranted.
However, the USFWS failed to make a 90-day finding as to whether the petition to list the California golden trout had merit, claiming budgetary constraints at the time. In February of 2001, Trout Unlimited notified the USFWS that if it did not act on the petition, the organization planned to pursue legal action. In spite of the threat of legal action, the USFWS still refused to act, forcing Trout Unlimited -- represented by Earthjustice's San Francisco office -- to go to court.
On June 21, 2002, a federal district court judge ruled in Trout Unlimited’s favor requiring that Gale Norton, the United States Secretary of the Interior, make a preliminary determination within 90 days regarding whether Trout Unlimited's petition to list the California golden trout as endangered presented substantial information that a listing may be warranted. Today’s decision complies with the judge’s order, and sets the stage for the remainder of the ESA listing process to move forward.
The USFWS will now conduct a status review - relying in large part on the information provided by Trout Unlimited in the petition -to determine the status of the species, and within the next year, whether to add the California golden trout to the federal endangered species list.
The California golden trout is native to only two high-altitude watersheds in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. The trout has fallen victim to the careless stocking of non-native fish and more than a century of overgrazing by cattle and sheep. The species’ range, which once encompassed an estimated 450 miles of stream habitat in the upper South Fork Kern River and adjacent Golden Trout Creek, today is a small fraction of that historic range. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that the golden trout is now secure in only 4 percent of its native range. After Trout Unlimited filed its initial petition, the U.S. Forest Service announced that it would rest for 10 years a Golden Trout Wilderness grazing allotment - a permit which was most recently held by the Anheuser-Busch Company - in the Golden Trout Wilderness Area.
However, since the petition was first filed, new information has become available that shows that the California golden trout is even more imperiled than originally thought. Recent genetic testing by the University of California at Davis show that there are significant numbers of hybrid fish scattered throughout the Golden Trout Creek watershed, and hybrids are in the South Fork of the Kern River as well, meaning that currently the native trout is not really secure anywhere.
For more information: Alan Moore, TU Western Communications Coordinator: 503.827.5700