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Protecting Green Sturgeon Habitats

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US - The Center for Biological Diversity took legal action today to intervene in a federal lawsuit to fight efforts that would strip critical habitat protections for the Sacramento River population of the green sturgeon, a fish protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

On March 10, the anti-environmental Pacific Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit on behalf of developers and corporations trying to eliminate federal habitat protections that the National Marine Fisheries Service determined are essential to the conservation and recovery of southern green sturgeon.

“There may be fewer than 50 pairs of spawning green sturgeon left in the Sacramento River, so this is no time to cut protections that are so essential to their survival,” said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate with the Center. “Without critical habitat protections, this rare fish would be even more vulnerable to water projects, habitat alteration, dredging and pesticides.”

In 2009, the Fisheries Service designated 8.6 million acres of river, estuarine, bay and coastal marine areas in California, Oregon and Washington as critical habitat for the conservation and recovery of the southern population of green sturgeon.

The critical habitat includes freshwater river spawning habitat in the Sacramento River and its tributaries, the San Francisco Bay-Delta, and coastal marine habitat and certain estuaries from Monterey Bay, California, to Cape Flattery, Wash. The habitat protections are a result of a series of conservation actions by the Center for Biological Diversity, which began with the filing of a petition in 2001 to list the green sturgeon under the Endangered Species Act — resulting in federal listing as a threatened species in 2006 — and subsequent litigation to compel the Fisheries Service to designate habitat protections for the rare fish.

“Developers and corporate interests want to take away the safety net we know is needed to prevent the green sturgeon’s collapse in the southern part of its range,” said Mr Miller.

“We’re seeking to intervene to protect areas for sturgeon, such as the San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem, which has been ravaged by excessive water diversions and exports, pesticides, pollution and introduced species, and which is now threatened by proposed dams and a peripheral canal.”

The Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to ensure that any actions they authorize, fund or carry out do not damage or destroy critical habitat. Critical habitat has a proven track record of protecting species. Studies have shown that species with designated critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be recovering than those without.

The green sturgeon, Acipenser medirostris, is one of the most ancient fish species in the world, remaining unchanged in appearance since it first emerged 200 million years ago. Green sturgeon are among the largest and longest-living fish species found in freshwater, living for as long as 70 years, reaching up to 7.5 feet in length, and weighing as much as 350 pounds.

Sturgeon have a prehistoric appearance, with a skeleton consisting of mostly cartilage and rows of bony plates for scales. They have snouts like shovels and mouths like vacuum cleaners that are used to siphon shrimp and other food from sandy depths.