Environmental and fishing groups today notified the National Marine Fisheries Service of their plan to sue the agency over its failure to reinstate federal protection of critical habitat for 19 species of salmon and steelhead up and down the West Coast. Earlier this year, the Bush administration stripped the fish of habitat protections when it capitulated to an industry lawsuit challenging the designations. The conservation groups also stated their intent to sue the agency for failing to designate critical habitat for Northern California steelhead trout.
Previously, in a case brought by the National Association of Home Builders and other development interests, the fisheries service refused to defend its designations in court and agreed to set aside the critical habitat for salmon and steelhead while it conducted additional economic analysis. The April 2002 settlement leaves this vital habitat at risk for the indefinite future.
“It’s appalling that the Bush administration so readily and unnecessarily abandoned important habitat protection for America’s favorite fish,” said David Hogan, Rivers Program Coordinator for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Even more offensive, it refused to put any interim protections in place.”
The Endangered Species Act protects imperiled species in two ways: first, by setting limits on activities that can directly harm the species itself, and second, by protecting specific habitat that is important to the survival and recovery of the species. While the law requires that the government designate critical habitat for all species on the endangered species list, fewer than ten percent of threatened and endangered species have designated critical habitat at this time.
“With a stroke of a pen, the Bush administration gave developers a sweetheart deal that wiped out protections covering over 150 river basins in four states,” said Michael Mayer, an attorney with Earthjustice. “But the law hasn’t changed – the agency must re-establish habitat protections in a timely manner, and we’ve seen no indication that it will do so without a push.”
“Without critical habitat protections, we will never recover salmon,” added Glen Spain, Northwest Regional Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “The administration’s actions are the functional equivalent of a death sentence.”
“The agency has consistently found that activities such as excessive sprawl, logging, and inappropriate development harm salmon and steelhead in California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho,” observed Doug Heiken, Conservation Director of Oregon Natural Resources Council. “It hasn’t gotten rid of these problems; it’s just taken away protections.”
Groups joining today’s notice are the Center for Biological Diversity, PCFFA, the Institute for Fisheries Resources, ONRC, Pacific Rivers Council, Native Fish Society, Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo, South Yuba River Citizens League, California Save Our Streams Council, Umpqua Watersheds, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, San Diego Trout, Friends of Placer County Communities, Greenspace The Cambria Land Trust, Alameda Creek Alliance, Fly Fishers Club of Orange County, California Wilderness Coalition, Turtle Island Restoration Network, Ventana Wilderness Alliance, and California Trout; they are represented by Earthjustice.