Lawsuit Wants Feds To Protect Rio Grande Cutthroat: Vanishing trout is the official state fish of New Mexico

(Note: More arbitrary and capricious -- or premeditated with intent to remove all responsible land and water use from America -- actions from the SCB.)

February 25, 2003

The Santa Fe New Mexican

202 E. Marcy Street

Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501

505-986-3030

Fax: 505-986-9147

http://www.sfnewmexican.com/

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Five environmental groups and an Albuquerque resident are filing a lawsuit against the federal government today, claiming the New Mexico state fish warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity of Tucson, Ariz., is the lead plaintiff in the suit that alleges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated federal law last year when it decided not to designate the Rio Grande cutthroat trout as a threatened or endangered species.

The Rio Grande cutthroat trout has vanished from at least 90 percent of its historic range, and Noah Greenwald, a biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the fish has been eliminated from 99 percent of its range.

"The Endangered Species Act clearly states that any species that is threatened or endangered from a significant portion of its range shall be listed," Greenwald said. "So I think we have a pretty good case on those grounds."

Environmental groups have twice petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Rio Grande cutthroat, which is the official state fish of New Mexico, but the federal agency has rejected both petitions.

Only 13 populations of Rio Grande cutthroat inhabit tiny mountain headwaters of New Mexico and southern Colorado. The Fish and Wildlife Service concluded those populations are secure and cited current efforts by state wildlife agencies to restore the fish to additional waters as reasons for not listing it.

Larry Bell, director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, said the lawsuit will hinder current recovery efforts by the state.

"I'm very disappointed they've taken that action because the state has utilized funds for restoration efforts," Bell said, "and now we'll have to reallocate that funding if we are brought into a lawsuit."

The state agency is working with the Valles Caldera National Preserve, U.S. Forest Service and local residents on a plan to restore cutthroat trout to dozens of miles of streams in the Jemez Mountains.

Bell said the lawsuit also hurts efforts to restore the fish on private land because the restrictions that come with the Endangered Species Act make landowners less willing to participate. "It's just detrimental at every turn," Bell said.

A federal listing could limit activities such as cattle grazing and recreational fishing in forests that contain streams where the fish currently lives or where its populations could be restored.

Threats to the fish include habitat degradation and interbreeding with non-native rainbow trout. The Rio Grande cutthroat is one of nine subspecies of cutthroat trout, so named for the bright slashes visible under its lower jaw.

Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Carson Forest Watch, Center for Native Ecosystems, Pacific Rivers Council and Albuquerque resident Michael Norte.

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