California court expands endangered-species removal powers

By Sudhin Thanawala, Associated Press | Posted - Feb. 27, 2017 at 6:14 p.m.



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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The California Supreme Court on Monday said petitioners seeking to remove a subset of coho salmon from the state's endangered species list could present new evidence to argue the listing was wrong.

In a unanimous ruling, the court overturned a lower court decision that said efforts to remove the salmon and other species could only argue that the listing was no longer necessary.

The high court decision came in a lawsuit by Big Creek Lumber Co. and the Central Coast Forest Association, which includes forest landowners. They filed a petition to remove a subset of coho salmon from the state's endangered species list, arguing that the listing was wrong because the fish were not native to the area and were introduced and maintained there artificially using hatcheries.

The fight was over coho salmon in streams south of San Francisco. The Fish and Game Commission listed those salmon as endangered in 1995.

Environmental groups were keeping a close eye on the case to see whether the court would rule on the native species argument. It did not do that and instead sent the case back to the appeals court for that determination.

"We don't accept that they are not native fish just because they are hatchery raised," said Lisa Belenky, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed a brief in the case.

The state Supreme Court instead focused narrowly on the scope of petitions seeking to remove an endangered species. It said the Court of Appeals was wrong when it found that Fish and Game Commission regulations only allowed consideration of a removal request based on events that occurred after the species was listed. The appeals court said any challenge that argued a final listing decision by the commission was wrong had to be filed in court.

The state attorney general's office, which represented the Fish and Game Commission, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the Supreme Court said the commission agreed with its understanding that delisting petitions could present new evidence to challenge the original listing decision.

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Sudhin Thanawala

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