Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 27, 2023

Contact:

Walter “Redgie” Collins, CalTrout, (415) 748-8755, rcollins@caltrout.org
John Buse, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 533-4416, jbuse@biologicaldiversity.org
Mati Waiya, Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation, (805) 667-7818, matiwaiya@wishtoyo.org

Court Upholds Protections for Southern California Steelhead

LOS ANGELES— A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has rejected a challenge from a water agency seeking to strip protections from the Southern California steelhead. The ruling adopted on Tuesday allows legal protections for the imperiled fish to continue until the California Fish and Game Commission makes a decision on permanent protections.

“We are thrilled to see the court uphold CalTrout’s science-driven petition to list southern steelhead under the California Endangered Species Act,” said Walter “Redgie” Collins, legal and policy director at CalTrout. “Southern steelhead are in dire need of state protections and today the court ruling got us one stop closer to that goal.”

In 2022 the commission voted to grant Southern California steelhead candidate status under the California Endangered Species Act following a petition from CalTrout. The designation offers temporary protections for the fish, including restrictions on development that could harm steelhead.

The United Water Conservation District challenged those protections and sued the commission. Tuesday’s ruling determined that the commission had substantial evidence to designate the Southern California steelhead as a candidate for endangered species listing.

“The court has recognized there’s ample evidence showing how badly steelhead are struggling,” said John Buse, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Looking at the very low numbers of recent steelhead runs, it’s clear these fish are teetering on the brink of extinction and need immediate help.”

CalTrout, the Center, the Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation and Ventura Coastkeeper intervened in the lawsuit to uphold the legal protections afforded under the steelhead’s “candidate” status.

“This ruling is a victory for 'iša kowoč and the watersheds that nourish all our relatives,” said Mati Waiya, executive director of the Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation. “We have fought long and hard to protect these cultural keystone species and celebrate added protection for southern steelhead.”

The southern steelhead population faces enormous challenges because dams and water diversions have destroyed its habitat. Encroaching development, wildfires and climate change pose additional threats. Annual steelhead runs once numbered in the tens of thousands but current runs are only in the single digits. Scientists believe that the southern steelhead is in danger of extinction within the next 25 to 50 years. Southern steelhead are listed as a federal endangered species.

For years environmental groups have fought to secure protections for these iridescent fish. In 2020 an appeals court upheld a ruling that determined the United Water Conservation District had violated the Endangered Species Act by diverting river flows and providing inadequate fish passage for its dam.

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Southern California steelhead. Credit: Alex Vejar/California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 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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