TUCSON, Ariz.— A federal judge on Thursday overturned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2017 withdrawal of a proposed rule to protect the lower Colorado River basin roundtail chub as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The judge ordered the agency to reconsider within a year whether the fish warrants protection.
“We’re thrilled the court rejected the Trump administration’s cynical attempt to deny roundtail chubs the protections they need,” said Ryan Shannon, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This ruling recognizes the dire straits the chub is in and calls the Service to task for delaying safeguards for decades.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service first identified the roundtail as needing protection in 1982. But it took a 2003 petition and two lawsuits from the Center before the agency finally proposed the fish for protection in 2015.
A third suit was required after the Trump administration in April 2017 baselessly withdrew the agency’s proposal to protect the lower Colorado River basin population of roundtail chub. The administration claimed it could not list the population because it was not distinct from two other threatened chub species: the endangered Gila chub and the headwater chub.
Despite these species’ decline in the lower Colorado River basin, rather than analyze whether they still needed protection, the Service withdrew protection without explanation. This move was roundly rejected by the court.
The chub faces threats including habitat destruction, invasive species and climate change. The Service’s withdrawal of the proposed rule failed to find that any of the threats to these native fish have abated.
The court also called the Service to task for claiming it did not have time to conduct required analysis under the Act because it was constrained by a legal deadline, noting that “[t]he Endangered Species Act does not require that a species be destroyed in order to preserve a part of the process meant to save it.”
“The decision not to protect this fish was driven by politics, not science. There is no question that the roundtail chub is at immediate risk of extinction,” Shannon said. “Like most of the Southwest’s native fish, the roundtail chub desperately needs endangered species protection to have any chance at survival.”
The roundtail chub occurs in Arizona and a small portion of New Mexico. Although it was historically found throughout the lower Colorado River basin, chubs have been eliminated from at least half of their historic range and reduced to a fraction of their historic abundance.