Two fish conservation organizations and their lawyers announced today that the federal government has proposed listing the Santa Ana sucker fish as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. The sucker, once common throughout the Los Angeles basin, has dwindled significantly in numbers owing to loss of habitat to development and water diversions. Small populations survive in the headwaters of the San Gabriel River in the Angeles National Forest, Big Tujunga Creek, and the Santa Ana River. A small, introduced population inhabits the Santa Clara River.
The Fish and Wildlife Service will publish its final decision by January 15, 2000, after a public comment period.
Listing could lead to limitations on destruction of fish habitat along the Tujunga Wash of the Los Angeles River and along the San Gabriel River on both private lands and in Angeles National Forest. The listing could also affect the renewal of the licenses for hydroelectric facilities on the Santa Ana River.
“We’re glad the federal government has recommended protection for portions of Southern California’s aquatic ecosystem,” said Claudia Polsky, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund attorney. “This species can be rescued with enough effort. At least now the Santa Ana sucker has made it to the emergency room.”
The announcement comes as the result of a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund on behalf of California Trout and the California-Nevada Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, which sought to force the agency to act on a petition submitted to it in 1994 seeking the listing of the species. In 1997 the Service announced that listing the sucker was “warranted but precluded.” In other words, the fish is in serious trouble and deserves protection but would not get it because the agency doesn’t have enough money to protect all deserving species and other species are in more immediate danger.
“This is the last Southern California native freshwater fish species that is not extinct or already listed,” said Camm Swift, past president of the California-Nevada Chapter of the American Fisheries Society. “Southern California’s riparian habitat has been pushed to the limit and could collapse altogether. The sucker and future generations of Californians will both benefit from the habitat protections a federal listing can provide.”
Jim Edmondson of CalTrout added, “My concern is, if our native fish are being listed under the Endangered Species Act, is it safe to drink the water?”