In response to a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Native Ecosystems, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, and Colorado Wild, a federal judge today threw out the Bush administration’s April 20, 2004 decision to not consider the groups’ petition to protect the Colorado River cutthroat trout as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The court ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to complete a status review of the imperiled trout within nine months.
“To avoid the permanent abyss of extinction, the Colorado River cutthroat trout needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act — the nation’s safety net for imperiled plants and animals,” stated Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity and primary author of the petition to protect the trout. “We are heartened that after nearly seven years of delay, the Colorado River cutthroat trout will finally get consideration for the strong protection provided by the Act.”
One of the most spectacular of the colorful cutthroat trout, the Colorado River cutthroat has a crimson belly and distinct black spots covering the tail, sides and back and was historically found in portions of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and extreme northern New Mexico and Arizona. Today, the Colorado River cutthroat trout has been reduced to less than five percent of its historic range in small, isolated headwater streams, where it is in immediate danger of extinction. This reduction was caused by habitat loss due to livestock grazing, logging, mining and water diversion, and the introduction and spread of nonnative trout, such as brook, rainbow and brown, which compete or hybridize with the native fish.
“The Colorado River cutthroat trout and the Rocky Mountain streams it depends on are clearly imperiled,” stated Erin Robertson, Staff Biologist with Center for Native Ecosystems. “This decision gives both the trout and good science another chance at a fair shake.”
In overturning the administration’s decision, the court determined that FWS had illegally and selectively sought information from state agencies that generally oppose protection, while giving the public no chance to comment.
“The court found the Bush administration solicited information about the trout’s status only from people who oppose protecting this rare native fish,” stated Neil Levine, an attorney with Earthjustice, who represented the groups on the suit. “The Colorado River cutthroat trout deserves fair consideration for protection as a threatened or endangered species.
The Bush administration’s denial of protection for the trout is typical of an administration that has only listed 56 species to date (always under court order) compared to 512 listed under the Clinton administration and 234 under Bush senior’s administration.
“The decision to not list the Colorado River cutthroat trout following more than four years of delay is typical of the administration’s antipathy towards environmental protections in general and protection for the nation’s wildlife in particular,” stated Greenwald. “Today’s decision is a victory for the Colorado River cutthroat trout and the Rocky Mountain streams on which it depends.