A curious ruling came out of Arizona month. Curious, I say, because it was one of the most convoluted opinions I have ever seen, and one that was based on a technicality, not substance.
The bottom line, though, is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's proposed recovery plan for the humpback chub in the Colorado River Basin was tossed out by U.S. District Judge Frederick Martone.
The Grand Canyon Trust had brought the lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service back in 2004, alleging, among other things, that the agency had listed a recovery population goal that was below the chub's existing population number that landed the species on the Endangered Species List in the first place.
However, the judge declined to consider that point, saying it was brought too late for him to review. What he did rule on, though, was that the Fish and Wildlife Service had not complied with the Endangered Species Act because it failed to include a timetable and cost estimate for the humpback recovery plan. And with that determination, Judge Martone tossed out the recovery plan.
Robert Wiygul, the Earthjustice attorney who argued the case for the Grand Canyon Trust, told me the judge had no mandatory duty under the ESA to review the details of the recovery plan and so "decided he wasn't going to look at the issue of whether the (population) number was too high or too low. That issue is still out there."
Nevertheless, the judge's ruling was hailed by Nikolai Ramsey, program director at the Grand Canyon Trust.
“The invalidated Recovery Goals were destructive to humpback chub and other native fish in Grand Canyon," he said. "These so-called Recovery Goals were in reality Anti-Recovery Goals, leading some to believe these endangered fish already recovered when they’re actually on the brink of extinction.”
The chub and other native fish of the Colorado River basin have struggled to survive since dams were built along the Colorado and Green rivers and many of their tributaries. According to the Grand Canyon Trust, "in just 13 years, the humpback chub in Grand Canyon have declined by two-thirds, from 10,500 in 1989 to 3,500 in 2002. The 2002 Recovery Goals defined a population as recovered at only 2,100 adults, a conclusion not supported by the best available science, and, incredibly, a lower value than when they were first listed as endangered."
“Some of the best scientists in the world said these recovery goals were based on seriously flawed science,” said Wiygul. “I think we can all be relieved that they won’t be used to justify decisions that will hurt the chub.”