Supreme Court could be sucked into deciding sucker fish recovery plan

Parimal M. Rohit

PASADENA — Supreme Court justices could be chiming in on the fate of Santa Ana sucker fish after a panel of federal judges determined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) properly handled its designation of an endangered fish habitat.

A group of local cities and water district agencies are reportedly planning to appeal 9th District Court of Appeals decision, published in late June, favoring an FWS plan to protect the Santa Ana sucker. The plan, local cities and water district agencies argue, would restrict how water from the Santa Ana River is used.

The FWS designated the Santa Ana sucker as a threatened species in 2000 and, by 2010, established conservation and recovery measures for the fish.

A final rule issued in 2010 designated several thousand acres of land as a “critical habitat,” according to the 9th Circuit’s ruling. The area designated for habitat protection was excluded in previous conservation plans. Local cities and water district agencies claimed FWS did not consult with them when including previously excluded land in conservation plans. The inclusion of such land was arbitrarily decided, the collection of cities and water districts contended.

A panel of federal judges did not agree with the allegations, ruling the FWS “satisfied its statutory obligation to cooperate with state agencies” and “the critical habitat designation was not arbitrary or capricious.

The 9th Circuit’s decision could only be appealed to the Supreme Court; a recent news report indicated 

Municipalities and water districts diverting water from the Santa Ana River sued the FWS after the federal agency published its final rule to protect sucker fish in 2010, alleging the conservation designation negatively impacted water rights and access.

The suing governments and agencies included Bear Valley Mutual Water Company, Big Bear Municipal Water District, East Valley Water District, Riverside County Flood Control and Water Conservation, San Bernardino City Municipal Water District, San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, San Bernardino Water District, Western Municipal Water District, West Valley Water District, Yucaipa Valley Water District and the cities of Redlands and Riverside.

Information about FWS’s sucker fish recovery plan can be found here: http://1.usa.gov/1L7LfiZ.

The 9th District’s June 25 ruling in favor of FWS is here: http://1.usa.gov/1IghJuw.

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