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U.S. Bars California Proposal to Kill Fish

The Forest Service acts after an environmental group sues, alleging the federal agency failed to review a state plan to restore native trout.

October 10, 2003|From Associated Press

SACRAMENTO — The U.S. Forest Service has suspended a California plan to poison a stretch of wilderness creek, triggering a national review of the competing environmental responsibilities between the state and federal governments.

Hundreds of joint federal-state partnerships trigger environmental reviews under state or federal law. But in many instances they have proceeded after just a state environmental review, a practice challenged by a federal lawsuit and the Forest Service's decision.

The state Department of Fish and Game had been set to kill nonnative fish this month in 11 miles of Silver King Creek, a tributary of the Carson River south of Lake Tahoe.

The poisoning was part of a plan to reintroduce native Paiute cutthroat trout, which are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Because the state had finished its environmental reviews, the Forest Service stopped its parallel review, although it was required by federal law.

The Forest Service's failure to perform the review sparked a lawsuit by environmentalists. That suit led the Forest Service to halt the fish kill.

The decision created repercussions across the nation, said Dave Lentz, who leads California's Heritage and Wild Trout Program, and Jim Harvey, a fish biologist with the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, which includes the wilderness creek.

The issue has been percolating for several years awaiting national direction, Harvey said, in part because there has been significant variation in how different federal agencies and national forests handle environmental reviews of joint projects.

Requiring federal environmental assessments of what essentially are state projects would subject those projects "to all the public comment, litigation and review that could hold up projects for years," Harvey said.

That is the way it should be, said Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity, which supports restoring the Paiute cutthroat to its historic range, but wants the Forest Service to consider alternatives to poisoning.

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