Court Rules Grand Canyon Fish Recovery Plan Inadequate

Government must craft more realistic minimum population goals for native fish


Robert Wiygul, (228) 374-0700
Neil Levine, Earthjustice, (303) 623-9466
Rick Johnson, Scientist, (928) 774-4270
Nikolai Ramsey, Grand Canyon Trust, (928) 774-7488

Recovery goals for the endangered Colorado River humpback chub that were developed by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in 2002 have been declared invalid by a federal district court in Arizona. On Monday, January 23, 2006, the court’s opinion was released, stating: “The Recovery Goals fail to comply with the ESA [Endangered Species Act], and accordingly, defendants are ordered to withdraw them. We declare them of no force and effect.” The defendants are the federal government.

“This is a great day for the endangered humpback chub and for Grand Canyon,” said Nikolai Ramsey, Program Director at Grand Canyon Trust. “The invalidated Recovery Goals were destructive to humpback chub and other native fish in Grand Canyon. These so-called Recovery Goals were in reality Anti-Recovery Goals, leading some to believe these endangered fish already recovered when they’re actually on the brink of extinction.”

The Grand Canyon Trust, represented by Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit March 31, 2004, against the federal government in an effort to stave off extinction of the humpback chub, a species that has plied the muddy waters of the Colorado River for four million years. The humpback chub, characterized by a prominent hump used like a rudder, are superbly designed to inhabit the wild, turbulent reaches of the Colorado River through the rugged canyons of the American Southwest.

Threats to the survival of humpback chub and their native river ecosystem arise mainly from the many dams on the Colorado River and its tributaries. In Grand Canyon, the primary culprit is Glen Canyon Dam, located just upstream of the Canyon. This dam has tamed the once wild river, initiating a cascade of environmental changes that has already wiped out some native species and has seriously reduced the populations of humpback chub.

In just 13 years, the humpback chub in Grand Canyon have declined by two-thirds, from 10,500 in 1989 to 3,500 in 2002. The 2002 Recovery Goals defined a population as recovered at only 2,100 adults, a conclusion not supported by the best available science, and, incredibly, a lower value than when they were first listed as endangered.

“Some of the best scientists in the world said these recovery goals were based on seriously flawed science,” said Robert Wiygul, attorney for Earthjustice. “I think we can all be relieved that they won’t be used to justify decisions that will hurt the chub.”

“The Recovery Goals clearly do not incorporate the best available science. We need a revision that will insure the long-term survival of these remarkable fish and their habitat,” said Colorado River scientist Rick Johnson.

“The Grand Canyon is one of America’s premier natural resources. No one wants to see the native species that evolved there over millions of years go extinct because of human carelessness,” said Neil Levine, attorney for Earthjustice.

“The humpback chub is just the tip of the iceberg,” added Nikolai Ramsey. “Four of eight native fish have already been lost from Grand Canyon. The humpback chub is poised to become number five. With the bogus recovery goals invalidated, we stand a better chance to recover this fish and other native fish in Grand Canyon.”

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