Election Section

Feds consider listing state fish as endangered

By Colleen Valles
Saturday September 21, 2002


SAN FRANCISCO — The federal government has determined California’s state fish, the golden trout, may need to be listed as an endangered species. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Friday there’s substantial evidence to support listing the trout. The finding comes almost a year after the conservation group Trout Unlimited sued the agency to force it to consider such a move. 

The fish’s population has declined because of habitat loss, hybridization, competition with non-native trout, and even overgrazing by livestock. At one time, the fish were found in 450 miles of streams in the Southern Sierra Nevada, but over the past 100 years that has dwindled to just over 80 miles. 

The service now will begin a 12-month review to determine if a listing is warranted and, if it is, whether that listing will be as a threatened species or as an endangered one. A threatened species is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future, and an endangered one faces the threat of extinction throughout part or all of the range where it lives. 

Native populations of the fish now are found only in the Golden Trout Creek and South Fork of the Kern River. The rivers are both in the Golden Trout Wilderness in Inyo National Forest. 

“It’s great news,” said Scott Yates of Trout Unlimited. “What’s interesting is the habitat for these fish is on federal land. The Endangered Species Act could really be productive in terms of focusing conservation efforts and trying to get the state to conserve native fish.” 

Yates said the biggest threat to the fish is hybridization, or breeding with other species of trout. 

Trout Unlimited sued the Fish and Wildlife Service in November 2001, and this June a federal judge gave the service three months to start the process of listing the fish. 

The Fish and Wildlife Service faces a backlog of other endangered species requests and lawsuits. 

“We’ve gotten so many petitions; we’re responding to many, many lawsuits,” said Jim Nickles of the service. “We’d like to be able to act on them as quickly as possible, we just have a real crunch in the resources we have.” 

So far, fishing of the colorful trout, a subspecies of rainbow trout, is not affected. If the fish is listed as endangered, state fish and game regulators would need to come up with guidelines for taking the fish.