A California golden trout in Bullfrog Creek in Inyo National Forest. The… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)
The California golden trout — the official state fish — will not receive protection under the Endangered Species Act after a 10-year review of scientific information and conservation programs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday.
"Conservation measures throughout the trout's historic range have done much to protect the species," service spokeswoman Sarah Swenty said in a statement. "In large part because of those measures, the service determined that the intensity of threats does not indicate the species is endangered, or likely to become so in the foreseeable future."
Trout Unlimited filed a petition in 2001 asking the government to list the golden trout, which grows to less than a foot long and is often reddish gold with brilliant orange highlights and blue-gray spots on its belly and fins. Genetically pure strains of California golden trout can be found in just 15 miles of Sierra Nevada high-country streams.
Howard Kern, a spokesman for Trout Unlimited, one of the nation's largest conservation organizations dedicated to the preservation of cold-water fisheries, expressed mixed feelings about the service's decision.
"If there were no collaborative recovery efforts underway, as was the case in 2001, we would be furious," Kern said. "However, we are pleased with all the collaborative activity surrounding this fish right now. If it stalls later, we will absolutely go after the federal government with another petition for listing."
But former Sierra Club president Joe Fontaine, a key figure in getting the 300,000-acre Golden Trout Wilderness near Sequoia National Park designated in 1978, was disappointed. "This species continues to face serious threats to its existence, and livestock grazing is one of them," he said.
Of particular concern is an ongoing dispute over four grazing allotments covering a large tract of the Golden Trout Wilderness. Two of the allotments have been cow-free since federal land managers in 2001 "rested" them for 10 years in order to rehabilitate golden trout habitat threatened by years of grazing and the stocking of non-native trout.
With those prohibitions set to expire this year, Fontaine said, "the golden trout needs all the protection it can get."
The service, however, determined the species is amply safeguarded by measures including a cooperative conservation agreement signed in 2004 between government agencies and private groups, including Trout Unlimited and the Federation of Fly Fishers.