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California's State Fish May Get Protection

Earthjustice attorneys achieved a long awaited victory in the end of June when a federal judge ordered U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton to move forward with processes that could list California's state fish as an endangered species.

Trout Unlimited (TU) initially petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) – a division of Interior – to list the California golden trout as "endangered" under the federal Endangered Species Act in October, 2000.

In November 2001, Earthjustice represented TU in suing the USFWS in an attempt to force action on its petition, which had been previously ignored. By law, the USFWS is required to decide whether or not a listing petition has merit within 90 days of receiving it, and then must make a listing decision within a year after acknowledging the petition as having merit. The Service, however, had thus far declined to address the golden trout case.

Finally, some 20 months after TU filed the original petition, the U.S. District Court in San Francisco issued the order forcing the Service to now make its decision.

The California golden trout is native to only two streams, the South Fork of the Kern River and Golden Trout Creek, in the rugged Sierra Nevada range just south of Mt. Whitney. Non-native trout stocked into these watersheds threaten to interbreed with and hybridize the golden trout, and livestock grazing continues to damage habitat despite last year's widely-publicized removal of cattle from the area grazed by former permittee Anheuser-Busch.

Indeed, forcing the Service to continue moving forward in the process to list California golden trout as an "endangered" species is a significant accomplishment. Now the Service must honor its obligation under the law to confront the science and determine whether the California state fish is in danger of extinction and in need of protection.