The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Friday there's substantial evidence
to support listing the trout. The finding comes almost a year after the
conservation group Trout Unlimited sued the agency to force it to consider
such a move.
The fish's population has declined because of habitat loss, hybridization,
competition with non-native trout, and even overgrazing by livestock. At one
time, the fish were found in 450 miles of streams in the Southern Sierra
Nevada, but over the past 100 years that has dwindled to just over 80 miles.
The service now will begin a 12-month review to determine if a listing is
warranted and, if it is, whether that listing will be as a threatened species
or as an endangered one. A threatened species is likely to become endangered
in the foreseeable future, and an endangered one faces the threat of
extinction throughout part or all of the range where it lives.
Native populations of the fish now are found only in the Golden Trout Creek
and South Fork of the Kern River. The rivers are both in the Golden Trout
Wilderness in Inyo National Forest.
``It's great news,'' said Scott Yates of Trout Unlimited. ``What's
interesting is the habitat for these fish is on federal land. The Endangered
Species Act could really be productive in terms of focusing conservation
efforts and trying to get the state to conserve native fish.''
Trout Unlimited sued the Fish and Wildlife Service in November 2001, and this
June a federal judge gave the service three months to start the process of
listing the fish.
The Fish and Wildlife Service faces a backlog of other endangered species
requests and lawsuits.
``We've gotten so many petitions; we're responding to many, many lawsuits,''
said Jim Nickles of the service. ``We'd like to be able to act on them as
quickly as possible, we just have a real crunch in the resources we have.''
So far, fishing of the colorful trout, a subspecies of rainbow trout, is not
affected. If the fish is listed as endangered, state fish and game regulators
would need to come up with guidelines for taking the fish.
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