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Conservation group to sue feds for protection of Clear Lake hitch

A national conservation group filed notice last week of its intention to sue the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for failing to protect a large silvery minnow found only in Clear Lake.

In a letter to Acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega, the Center for Biological Diversity asserted denial of protection for the Clear Lake hitch under the Endangered Species Act was “arbitrary and capricious and contrary to the best available science.”

The Interior Department’s action under the Trump administration in December relied on “misinformation and climate change denial,” Jeff Miller, a spokesman for the center, said Thursday in a statement.

Noting that California had protected the hitch as a threatened species “based on sound science,” he said, “the feds need to follow suit.”

Hitch once numbered in the hundreds of thousands in the ancient lake at the heart of Lake County — now best known for water sports and bass fishing. The species surged every spring up all or most of the lake’s tributary streams to spawn in shallow water.

Spawning is now mostly limited to Adobe and Kelsey creeks, which flow into the west side of the lake.

The federal agency, culminating a long-delayed study, said a host of conditions — habitat degradation, predation and competition from invasive fish, drought and climate change — are unlikely to affect the vitality of the hitch “in a biologically meaningful way.”

The 1,200-member Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians, based on a rancheria near Lakeport, joined the center in its original petition for federal protection of the hitch, which helped sustain Indigenous people around the lake for millenniums.

The hitch are one of 11 species on a list of decisions set for review by the Biden administration, but Miller said the center is “not sure what level of scrutiny” the fish will get.

“We’d welcome a Biden administration action to overturn the decision and send it back to Fish and Wildlife to reconsider,” he said.

The center is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists seeking protection for species threatened with extinction.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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