Sunday, January 29, 2023

Emergency Endangered Species Act Protections Sought for Clear Lake Hitch

The following is a press release issued by the Center for Biological Diversity:


Clear Lake Hitch [Photograph from Richard Macedo of the California Department of Fish and Game]

Together with the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians, Robinson Rancheria of Pomo Indians, Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake and the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians, the Center for Biological Diversity urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to provide emergency protections to the Clear Lake hitch.

Today’s request under the Endangered Species Act notes that the imperiled California fish’s numbers have plummeted in recent years. Extinction is now a distinct possibility if swift action isn’t taken. The hitch has great cultural significance and has been a primary food source that has sustained the Tribes for generations.

“Our Tribe expects and relies on the state and federal agencies to carry out their responsibilities for managing land, water, and all the fish and wildlife,” said Philip Gomez, chairman of the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians. “We have come to a point where we know that the agencies must try harder, and they must welcome the Tribes to co-manage our land and waters. We call out to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to authorize emergency listing of the chi/Clear Lake hitch immediately, so they can be protected for their spawning a few months from now. None of us want this fish to go extinct on our watch, as Tribal leaders.”

“We are talking about extinction,” said Meg Townsend, senior freshwater attorney at the Center. “The hitch can’t withstand one more year of failed spawning. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to protect this severely imperiled fish for more than a decade is shocking and unacceptable. Only emergency protections can correct this grievous error and give the hitch a fighting chance.”

The last successful spawning of Clear Lake hitch was observed in 2017. The following year, extremely few juvenile hitch were collected. Almost no juvenile hitch have been observed since. Adult hitch are now also in steep decline. With an estimated six-year lifespan, the hitch can’t survive many more years of failed spawning without disappearing forever.

The primary threat to Clear Lake hitch is a lack of spring flows in lake tributaries used for spawning. This is caused by water over-withdrawal, both legal and illegal, that is being worsened by climate change-driven drought. The hitch is also threatened by fish-passage barriers, habitat degradation, pollution and predation, and competition from invasive, stocked fish, including carp and bass.

The Center petitioned the Service in 2012 to protect the hitch under the Endangered Species Act. After eight years of delay and a lawsuit by the Center, the agency finally issued a decision, but, in a bizarre move, denied the fish protections. The Center challenged this decision in federal court, leading the agency to reconsider listing the hitch, but no new decision will be made until 2025.

“As President Biden highlighted this week at the White House Tribal Nations Summit, Indigenous Knowledge is to be considered in policy and agency decision making,” said Sherry Treppa, chairperson of the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake. “The Service needs to respect not only Tribal Nations but the president and take immediate action otherwise years of research, preservation and re-population efforts by local tribal nations and county will be for naught.”

“The Clear Lake hitch — the chi — is an important part of our Tribe’s culture that sustained our families for generations,” said Jesse Gonzalez, vice chair of Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians. “We as Indian people have lost so much of our ways and our culture at the hands of others, and now we’re trying so hard to hold on to what’s left, for ourselves, for our families, and for our future. I remember catching chi as a young boy and now can only hope that my children will one day have that same experience. If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t give the chi emergency endangered species protections, we fear that our future generations will never have that opportunity.”

The hitch needs immediate action, including captive rearing, enforcement action against illegal water withdrawals by cannabis growers and others, control of invasive predatory fish in the lake, and work with legal water rights holders to maintain instream flows. Emergency protection under the Endangered Species Act would help ensure these things happen.

On Nov. 3, the California Fish and Game Commission took the unprecedented step of writing to the Service to request emergency listing of the hitch under the Act.

The Service has only given emergency listings to two species in the past two decades. Such listings take effect immediately upon publication in the Federal Register and last for 240 days. Simultaneously, the Service must publish a proposed rule to extend the listing beyond the initial period.

“The Clear Lake hitch is on the verge of extinction unless action is taken now,” said Michael Y. Marcks, vice-chairperson of the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake. “Tribes are united in seeking protection of the hitch, which is culturally significant to The Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake. Our Tribe has strong connections and traditions to our land, and we constantly strive to conserve, preserve, and protect all our natural resources. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must use its emergency authority to protect and preserve the hitch for future generations.”

“In 2004, Robinson Rancheria started the efforts for the first petition to U.S Fish and Wildlife for the hitch to be listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act,” said Irenia Quitiquit, secretary treasurer of the Robinson Rancheria of Pomo Indians Citizens Business Council. “Because of Robinson Rancheria’s peoples’ strong ties to the hitch, culturally and for subsistence, an emergency listing would be a great victory toward saving the hitch from extinction. Robinson Rancheria’s Tribal efforts over the past 18 years has been documented through many federal grants and tribal support efforts to continue studying the hitch. Research has proven to be effective in this hopeful goal — having the hitch listed as a federally endangered species. All Lake County California Tribes look forward to continuing the meaningful work to save the Hitch.”

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MendoFever Staff
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