SAN RAFAEL, Calif.— Two conservation organizations have sued Northern California’s Marin County for failing to adequately protect coho salmon and their habitat in the San Geronimo Valley.
“Even with these coho salmon declining toward extinction, Marin County refuses to take simple steps to protect these fish and the clean water they need to survive,” said Peter J. Broderick, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “As the last remaining undammed watershed in the county, San Geronimo is especially valuable to the species. County officials have no excuse for not doing more to safeguard this crucial coho habitat from development impacts.”
The new lawsuit focuses on the county’s failure to adopt a streamside conservation ordinance to preserve vegetation, maintain water quality and prevent erosion, in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act. The county originally planned to adopt such an ordinance in 2007 when it last updated its Countywide Plan. But 12 years later, the measure has still not materialized.
The San Geronimo watershed includes 30 to 50 percent of the entire Lagunitas coho population, one of the largest remaining in the state. The county expects the number of developed parcels in the watershed to increase by 22 percent in the coming years.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has characterized the coho as in an “extinction vortex” and identified preserving streamside buffers — which filter runoff and remove sediment — as essential to curbing future threats to the coho.
After an earlier successful lawsuit by Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN), the county acknowledged that a streamside protection ordinance is necessary to reduce impacts to coho. But officials have refused to commit to adopting one for another five years or more.
“The county continues to neglect its duty to protect this species by failing to pass a science-based, common-sense streamside protection ordinance,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of SPAWN. “Despite providing indisputable scientific data and testifying at public hearings, we’re left once again with the last-resort option of taking them back to court. We call on lawmakers to take speedy and decisive action to protect the critical habitat endangered coho need to survive, so we can redirect our resources to restoration instead of litigation.”
The lawsuit was filed by Center for Biological Diversity and SPAWN in Marin County Superior Court. The petitioners are represented by attorneys at the Sanford Environmental Law Clinic and the Law Offices of Michael W. Graf.