JUDGE RULES ALABAMA STURGEON CAN STAY ON ENDANGERED LIST
The search for the elusive Alabama sturgeon -- if it exists -- may be on again in the state. U.S. District Judge Virginia Hopkins has denied a request by the Alabama-Tombigbee Rivers Coalition to have the fish removed from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act but has ordered proponents of its listing to define the areas where the fish lives. To do that, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials must first locate one of the fish.
The coalition, which includes the Alabama Farmers Federation and a group of businesses, filed suit in 2001 contesting the Alabama sturgeon's listing as an endangered species. The coalition claims listing the sturgeon can cause major economic consequences like disruption of river dredging, barge traffic and damming efforts needed for water commerce, if in fact the fish exists as a separate species.
"The uncertainly of where the habitat is located could very well lead to the FWS prohibiting dredging the waterways, which in turn would shut down commercial traffic on Alabama's rivers causing billions of dollars in lost commerce," said Federation National Affairs Director Keith Gray.
The fish was placed on the endangered species list in May 2000 even though there was no evidence that the fish is a distinct species, Gray said. The coalition believes Fish and Wildlife Service had illegally given the fish the endangered species designation because it had not listed the fish's critical habitat.
The coalition wanted the court to require the Fish and Wildlife Service to begin the listing process again, but that request was denied. Instead, the judge gave the agency six months to have a proposal and a year for the final designation of the fish's critical habitat.
Officials with the Fish and Wildlife Service said they are pleased with the court's decision, but added that it will be a challenge to find one of the fish since there are none in captivity to start a breeding program. The last known Alabama sturgeon died in 2002.
Lawyers for the coalition said the group is disappointed with the ruling and will decide whether to appeal.
Gray said the recent court ruling is a good example of why the Federation supports the Threatened and Endangered Species Recover Act (TESRA - HR 3824). Gray said TESRA fixes the long outstanding problems of the Endangered Species Act. The bill focuses on species recovery, provides financial incentives, increases openness and accountability, strengthens scientific standards and creates bigger roles for state and local governments. It also protects private property owners and eliminates dysfunctional critical habitat designations, he added.
HR 3824 has passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate.