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For Immediate Release, August 23, 2011
Contact: Ileene Anderson, (323) 654-5943,

Anti-fish Lawsuit Condemned by Conservation Group

Water Agencies' Suit Would Strip Habitat Protections for Rare Santa Ana Sucker

LOS ANGELES The Center for Biological Diversity condemned a lawsuit filed today that seeks to remove protections for the federally threatened Santa Ana sucker. The suit, filed by several Inland Empire water agencies, was brought against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reverse the agency’s designation of critical habitat for the rare, unique Southern California fish.

As part of the Santa Ana Sucker Conservation Team, I’ve watched the sucker population in the Santa Ana river decline to a point where its very existence is threatened,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center, which has been working to protect the sucker for more than a decade. “The current designation of critical habitat for the sucker is the bare minimum the species needs to survive. This lawsuit has nothing to do with the species and everything to do with developers and big agriculture wanting more than their fair share of water.” 

Last December, the Fish and Wildlife Service revised its critical habitat designation for the sucker from 8,305 acres to 9,331 acres and, importantly, included stretches of the Santa Ana and its tributaries that are currently occupied by the fish but had been removed from the previous flawed designation. The new designation came as a result of a lawsuit filed in 2007 by the Center and allies, which had argued that the previous designation was not scientifically sound and did not properly protect the species’ habitat.

The Center is considering seeking intervention in the lawsuit to protect the designation.

“The important thing is the survival of this species, and for that we need to ensure that its critical habitat is protected,” Anderson said. “If our participation in the suit looks necessary, we’ll seek to intervene.”

The new designation covers habitat in stretches of three Southern California rivers and their tributaries: the Santa Ana River (in San Bernardino and Riverside counties) and the San Gabriel River and Big Tujunga Wash (both in Los Angeles County). Adequate critical habitat is a clear benefit for the fish; studies have shown that species with critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as those without it.

The Santa Ana sucker is a small, olive-gray fish found in clear, cool, rocky pools of creeks, as well as gravelly bottoms of permanent streams with slight to swift currents. Many of these streams are naturally subject to severe seasonal flooding, which can decimate resident fish populations. Yet the Santa Ana sucker possesses adaptations that enable it to repopulate its birth streams rapidly after such unpredictable events. The fish eats primarily algae, which it searches out with the large lips that gave it its common name. The species was well distributed throughout the Los Angeles, San Gabriel and San Bernardino rivers historically, but is now relegated to only a few stream stretches.

“This little fish, which is evolutionarily adapted to boom-and-bust cycles and barely clinging to survival, is a bellwether for the state of our local rivers and their tributaries,” said Anderson. “Challenging this science-based critical habitat designation is a bad idea for both fish and people.”


The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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