Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 27, 2023


Philip Gomez, chairman, Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians, (707) 263-3924 x 103,
Ron Montez, Sr., Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians, 707-263-3924 x 135,
Meg Townsend, Center for Biological Diversity, (971) 717-6409,

California Takes Important Steps Alongside Tribes to Protect Clear Lake Hitch

State Commits $2 Million to Remove Instream Barriers

CLEARLAKE, Calif.— The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has announced a list of commitments aimed at protecting Northern California’s imperiled Clear Lake hitch.

The commitments, announced Thursday, include securing streamflow in the fish’s spawning areas, reducing predation and removing barriers to migration. The department committed $2 million for barrier removal projects over the next three years. The state also committed to multiple co-management efforts with Lake County Tribes.

The Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians will receive a department grant to facilitate the removal of the fish passage barrier along Kelsey Creek at the Main Street bridge. A coalition is working to identify existing barriers on all spawning creeks.

These commitments are the latest development in the decades-long effort to save the Clear Lake hitch. They come on the heels of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s March 24 drought emergency executive order, which called out threats to the hitch and its spawning and rearing habitat in and around Northern California’s Clear Lake.

“These recent statements by the governor and department show a commitment by the state of California to ensure that the chi will have the water they require and the protection they need to not go extinct,” said Sarah Ryan, environmental director of the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians. “It’s a welcome change, and we are hopeful that action to protect the chi will continue well past this spring’s spawning season.”

The large minnow — known as “chi” to local Tribal members — is found only in Clear Lake and migrates into the lake’s tributaries to spawn each spring before returning to the lake. To do so, hitch need adequate stream flows or they can be stranded in dried up creeks and die.

Historically numbering in the millions, Clear Lake hitch now face a tough fight to avoid extinction. The fish have not had a successful spawning season for six years. Because hitch typically only live six years, this year is critical.

In December 2022 the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians hosted an emergency summit with the Department, which led to commitments by multiple agencies and Tribes to take decisive actions to collect data, preserve streamflows, and enforce illegal diversions and stream modifications.

“This intensive collaboration of monitoring and observation with the local Tribes is ensuring that the chi have a fighting chance,” said Philip Gomez, chairman of the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians.

While the commitments are a step forward, further urgent actions are needed to ensure flows are adequate to provide successful spawning conditions for the hitch through the end of the spawning period, which can stretch into the early summer.

The department has committed to ongoing coordination with a coalition that includes the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians, Robinson Rancheria Pomo Indians of California, Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake, Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians, Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians California, Elem Indian Colony, state, local and federal agencies, and landowners.

This coalition is gauging streams at multiple locations and reporting data to develop models to predict future stream flow conditions. Several key, longer-term projects are also advancing, including one to restore and connect 120 acres of the fish’s wetland rearing habitat.

“The state is finally stepping up for the Clear Lake hitch, but we need to see juvenile fish surviving each year to keep the species from sliding into extinction,” said Meg Townsend, freshwater attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Baby hitch need enough water to migrate from the streams into wetlands as late as June. That means irrigators need to improve water conservation practices throughout the growing season.”

“We’ve been fighting this battle for so long just to get attention from the agencies who have responsibility over our waters and our traditional food source — the chi — which have kept our people alive since time immemorial,” said Ron Montez, Sr., tribal historic preservation officer for the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians. “The chi is not just a fish — it’s a gift from Creator. I’m grateful that the governor, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the State Water Resources Control Board are finally stepping up and doing what should have been done years ago. I will continue to pray and hope that our chi will be restored to their former abundance so they can continue to exist and to feed our people for generations to come.”

In 2012 the Center petitioned the state of California and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the Clear Lake hitch as an endangered species. Although California listed the hitch as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act in 2014, the Service delayed any decision until 2020, when the Trump administration ignored the science and refused to protect the hitch. The Center challenged that decision in a 2021 lawsuit and, as a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will make a new decision about protecting the hitch under the federal Endangered Species Act by January 2025.

Clear Lake hitch photo by Jeanine Pfeiffer. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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