Rare Santa Ana Fish Scores New Critical Habitat Protections


LOS ANGELES: Responding to a lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated additional critical habitat for the federally threatened Santa Ana sucker, a fish that lives only in Southern California. Today’s revised designation includes 9,331 acres of critical habitat, up from 8,305 acres in the previous designation. Importantly, this new designation includes stretches of the Santa Ana River and its tributaries that are currently occupied by the fish but had been removed from the previous flawed designation. The new designation covers habitat in stretches of three Southern California rivers and their tributaries: the Santa Ana River (in San Bernardino and Riverside counties) and the San Gabriel River and Big Tujunga Wash (both in Los Angeles County).

The additional critical habitat acres are a clear boon for the fish; studies have shown that species with critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as those without it.

Protection of additional habitat gives the Santa Ana sucker a shot at survival,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center, which has been working to protect the sucker for more than a decade. “Such protection will not just benefit this rare fish, but also hundreds of other species, including people, who depend on clean water and intact rivers.”

The Santa Ana sucker is a small, olive-gray fish that is found in clear, cool, rocky pools of creeks, as well as gravelly bottoms of permanent streams with slight to swift currents. Many of these streams are naturally subject to severe seasonal flooding, which can decimate resident fish populations. Yet the Santa Ana sucker possesses adaptations that enable it to repopulate its natal streams rapidly after such unpredictable events. The fish eats primarily algae, which it searches out with the large lips that gave it its common name. The species was well distributed throughout the Los Angeles, San Gabriel and San Bernardino rivers historically, but is currently relegated to only a few stream stretches.

Recent surveys along the Santa Ana river over the past five years show that populations of the Santa Ana sucker are declining, despite active work on habitat restoration.

“This little fish, which is evolutionarily adapted to boom-and-bust cycles and barely clinging to survival, is a bellwether for the state of our local rivers and their tributaries,” said Anderson. “While this critical habitat designation is an improvement over the last one, much more needs to be done to stop this native Southern California fish’s ongoing slide toward extinction.”

Source: Center for Biological Diversity

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