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Agency proposes to list southern green sturgeon as threatened
SACRAMENTO - A federal agency on Tuesday proposed listing California's green sturgeon population south of the Eel River as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, after environmental groups sued to overturn an earlier finding.
The National Marine Fisheries Service in January 2003 said it could find no sign the so-called "living dinosaurs" are dying out. That prompted the suit by three environmental groups and a March 2004 federal court ruling overturning that decision.
The fisheries service cited "new information" in the intervening year for prompting its revised decision Tuesday that the ancient fish are threatened south of the Eel River. The service reiterated its earlier decision that the population in the Eel and rivers to the north is in no immediate danger.
Looking like a fish from the age of dinosaurs, the long-lived, slow-growing fish can reach more than 7 feet long and weigh up to 350 pounds. Like salmon, they spend part of their lives in the ocean, returning to their native rivers to spawn. Salmon and sturgeon share many of the same habitat needs.
The service looked at studies of salmon in the Central Valley and found that dams in the upper Sacramento and Feather rivers blocked the migration of green sturgeon as well, substantially reducing the giant fish's habitat.
Brent Plater, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity who sued to force the re-evaluation, said the environmental groups will ask the service to increase the species' listing to endangered, arguing that the dams, and the apparent harm they create, have been a problem for decades.
The service found spawning sturgeon populations in the Klamath-Trinity and Rogue rivers farther north in California and Oregon, and said spawning was likely in other northern rivers as well. It said the northern population will remain on the "species of concern" list for a re-examination in five years if conditions change or scientific knowledge improves.
Plater said the environmental groups will consider suing again over the service's decision not to include the Klamath-Trinity basin, where the bulk of the remaining population lives. That population "is in the middle of a massive water war" as farmers, fishermen and Indian tribes fight over too-scarce water there, Plater said.
The service said besides its own scientists, the information was reviewed by wildlife departments in California, Oregon and Washington, along with the Yurok and Hoopa tribes in northwestern California, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Bay-Delta Program.
ON THE NET
Green Sturgeon Proposed Rule: http://swr.nmfs.noaa.gov/news/green_st.pdf
National Marine Fisheries Service: www.nmfs.noaa.gov
Updated Green Sturgeon Status Review: http://swr.nmfs.noaa.gov/psd/Final%20Green%20Sturgeon%20Status%20Review%20Up date.pdf
Environmental Protection Information Center: www.wildcalifornia.org
Center for Biological Diversity: www.biologicaldiversity.org
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM Pacific
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