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For Immediate Release, May 13, 2008

Contact: Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495

Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout Warrants Protection as Endangered Species
State Fish of New Mexico Threatened by Nonnative Trout,
Habitat Destruction, Disease, and Climate Change

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico Following a 1998 petition and three lawsuits brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the Rio Grande cutthroat trout warrants protection as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The agency, however, stopped short of actually providing safeguards. Instead, they added the trout to the list of candidate species, which provides no actual protection to the species.

“After 10 years, we are glad the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finally recognized the precarious status of the Rio Grande cutthroat trout,” stated Noah Greenwald, science director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Continued delay of protection for the trout, however, is a recipe for extinction.”

Rio Grande cutthroat trout populations are beset by a multitude of threats, including nonnative trout, disease, habitat degradation, and climate change. In 2002, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that there were 13 populations that could be considered secure from these threats and that this was sufficient reason to deny the species protection. At the time, the Center argued that the existence of these 13 populations was not enough — and that even if it were, these populations were not truly secure. Six years later, this has unfortunately for the trout proven to be the case. Using the same criteria it used before, the Service has determined that only five of the 13 populations can now be considered secure, necessitating the species’ protection under the Endangered Species Act.

“There is no question that the Rio Grande cutthroat trout is at serious risk of extinction,” stated Greenwald. “We hope the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will expedite the protection New Mexico’s state fish deserves.”

The Rio Grande cutthroat trout will become the nation’s 281st candidate species. On average, the 280 species already on the candidate list have been waiting for protection for 19 years. Such delays have had real consequences, with at least 24 species having gone extinct after being designated candidates for protection.

Overall, the Bush administration has protected the fewest species of any administration in the history of the Endangered Species Act, to date protecting only 59 species, compared to 522 under the Clinton administration and 231 under Bush Sr.’s administration. On average, the administration has listed only seven species per year. By contrast, an average of 65 species per year were listed during the Clinton administration, and 58 species per year were listed during the first Bush administration.

“Because extinction is forever, delays in protection of the nation’s most imperiled species, including the Rio Grande cutthroat trout, are unacceptable,” said Greenwald. “The Endangered Species Act can save the Rio Grande cutthroat trout and the other 280 candidate species, but only once they’re granted endangered status.”

The Rio Grande cutthroat trout was first recognized in 1541 by Pedro de Castañedade Najera, who wrote of “a little stream which abounds in excellent trout and otter” (the otter is now extinct in the Southwest). This stream was in all likelihood Glorieta Creek Southeast of present-day Santa Fe — now a barren, ephemeral wash for most of its length, harboring only a few exotic brown trout. The Rio Grande cutthroat trout once ranged throughout cool waters of the Rio Grande in Colorado and New Mexico, including the Chama, Jemez, and Rio San Jose drainages, along with the Pecos and Canadian drainages.

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