For immediate Release, May 22, 2007
Contact: Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout to Be Considered Again for
Protection Under Endangered Species Act:
State Fish of New Mexico Threatened by Nonnative Trout, Habitat Destruction and Disease
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— In response to a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it will again consider the Rio Grande cutthroat trout for protection as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The Center first petitioned to have the Rio Grande cutthroat trout protected in 1998, and despite the fact that the trout is gone from 99 percent of its historic range and threatened by multiple factors, the Fish and Wildlife Service has steadfastly refused to provide protection.
“Without the protections of the Endangered Species Act, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout may be lost forever to extinction,” said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We have a duty to protect the Rio Grande cutthroat trout and the rivers and streams it depends on.”
Under the Endangered Species Act, an endangered species is defined as any species that is at risk of extinction in “all or a significant portion of range.” In a 2002 decision, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the Rio Grande cutthroat trout was gone or threatened from the vast majority of its range, but because it was not at risk of extinction in all of its range, it did not warrant protection. In response to the Center’s lawsuit, the agency has now admitted that this decision violated the law and agreed to reconsider protection for the rare trout.
“The goal of the Endangered Species Act is to recover species like the Rio Grande cutthroat trout and the habitats they depend on, not just preserve zoo populations in tiny fractions of their range,” said Greenwald.
Rio Grande cutthroat trout populations are beset by a multitude of threats, including nonnative trout, disease, population restriction, environmental change, and habitat degradation related to livestock grazing, logging, roads and other factors. In its 2002 finding, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined a mere 13 tiny headwater streams could be considered secure from these threats. Even these populations, however, are not secure because they are isolated, and are at continued risk from invasion by nonnative trout, disturbance events like drought or fire, and climate change.
“There is no question that the Rio Grande cutthroat trout is at serious risk of extinction,” said Greenwald. “We hope the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will put politics aside and give New Mexico’s state fish the protection it deserves.”
To date, the Bush administration has protected just 57 species — the fewest for any six-year period since the inception of the Endangered Species Act. There were 512 species protected under President Clinton and 234 protected during George H. W. Bush’s presidency. During the last six years of the Clinton administration, just 13 percent of decisions denied protection to species, compared to 52 percent during the six years of the current Bush administration.
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 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.