The Grand Canyon Trust plans to formally challenge U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery goals concerning four species of fish in the Colorado River. Officials of the Flagstaff-based environmental group believe the federal agency’s intentions will not help a recovery effort and would do more damage than good.
"The recovery goals are not based upon the best available science and in fact will leave these fish in greater peril than they were when originally listed," said Nikolai Ramsey, program officer at the Grand Canyon Trust.
The Trust, represented by the legal foundation Earthjustice, notified U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service early last week of its intent to sue over Endangered Species Act violations contained within the organization’s recently released recovery goals for four endangered fish — the humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker.
"The Grand Canyon is in trouble," Grand Canyon Trust president Geoff Barnard said in a Nov. 25 press release. "Today we are launching a major effort to save Grand Canyon by restoring the health of the Colorado River."
On Aug. 1, Fish and Wildlife issued its revised recovery plans for the four fish species. The humpback chub, one of four endangered fish found only in the Colorado River and existing there for the last 2 million years, is sliding toward extinction in Grand Canyon, the Trust reports.
Between 1982-2001, their population has declined from 7,500 to 1,100 adults, an 85-percent decrease in population size. The recovery goals for humpback chub defines their population as recovered at 2,100 adults.
"That number is unacceptably low," said Jay Tutchton, attorney for Earthjustice. "The Fish and Wildlife Service’s new ‘recovery’ goal is a feel-good fairy tale based not on sound science, but political expediency and the desires of powerful special interests."
The decline in the abundance of the chub in Grand Canyon has been detailed in a recent study, "Current Status and Trends for humpback chub (Gila cypha) in Grand Canyon," by the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center’s Biological Sciences program.
Habitat changes created by Glen Canyon Dam and the proliferation of non-native fish are the primary suspects in the dramatic decline of the humpback chub in Grand Canyon, Trust officials said.
The chub evolved over eons in relatively warm, sediment-rich waters in a system prone to both flooding and drought. Water releases from Glen Canyon Dam are cold and clear, creating unfavorable habitat conditions for the humpback chub and favorable habitat conditions for the chub’s non-native predators.
"Concerning the state of the resources on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon, the humpback chub is just the tip of the iceberg," Ramsey said. "Four native fish are already extirpated; the humpback chub is about to become number five. And sediment, essential for building beaches and sustaining other important river resources, is also in serious decline."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not respond last week to the environmental group’s charges.
"It is critical that these endangered fish get recovery goals actually supportive of their recovery," Barnard said. "We will fight in court in order to save these valuable native Colorado River fish and restore the Grand Canyon to health."
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On the Net: Trust site: http://www. grandcanyontrust.org. Earthjustice’s site: http://www.earthjustice.org.
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