Spawning Habitat in Sacramento River Preserved; Developers’ Lawsuit Denied
SAN FRANCISCO— The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld the designation of 8.6 million acres of critical habitat for the threatened green sturgeon in California, Oregon and Washington, including the sturgeon’s only remaining spawning habitat in the Sacramento River. The decision upholds a district court ruling from 2012 that was appealed by the property-rights organization Pacific Legal Foundation, which had sued on behalf of developers and corporations trying to eliminate federal protections for the green sturgeon.
“The green sturgeon faced extinction without these critical habitat protections, and we’re happy to see the courts affirming their importance,” said Miyoko Sakashita, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Sacramento River is the sturgeon’s last remaining spawning grounds and it needs to be protected from destruction.”
The green sturgeon is one of the most ancient fish species in the world, and the National Marine Fisheries Service had determined that these critical habitat protections were essential to its conservation and recovery. The sturgeon was listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 2006 based on a petition from the Center in 2001. In 2009 the Fisheries Service designated coastal and river areas in California, Oregon and Washington as critical habitat for the green sturgeon. After this lawsuit was filed challenging that designation, the Center intervened to ensure essential habitat protections remained in place.
The Endangered Species Act requires the Fisheries Service to designate critical habitat for a species once it is listed as threatened or endangered. Federal agencies must ensure that any actions they authorize, fund or carry out do not destroy critical habitat.
Studies have shown that species with designated critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be recovering as those without it. Those protections are particularly important in the Sacramento River, where fewer than 50 spawning pairs remained in 2006.
“The sturgeon needs our help,” Sakashita said. “Today’s ruling and the enforcement of federal protections give this prehistoric fish a good chance of recovery.”