Friday's decision, issued by the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, comes some 20 months after TU filed its initial listing petition. In November 2001, TU sued the USFWS in an attempt to force action on its petition. By law, the USFWS must decide whether or not a listing petition has merit within 90 days of receiving it. A listing decision is then made within a year of the decision that a petition has merit. The Service, however, has declined to address the golden trout case. Now, that decision will have to be made.
"Trout Unlimited is, as a rule, disinclined to litigate, but we have exhausted all other options and there is a certain urgency to this situation," said Steve Trafton, Trout Unlimited's California Policy Coordinator. "Golden trout could very well face extinction if they had to wait for the Fish and Wildlife Service to get to our petition, and the fact is we've lost nearly two years already since we filed for listing. Neither we nor the state fish can afford to lose more time."
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.
"The court's decision reaffirms that the Service must honor its obligation under the law to confront the science and determine whether our state fish is in danger of extinction and in need of protection," said Greg Loarie, attorney for Earthjustice, representing TU in the case.