Forest Service Could Be Sued as Visitors Trash Arizona Creek

TUCSON, Arizona, May 23, 2008 (ENS) – The nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity today filed a 60 day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Forest Service for Endangered Species Act violations at Fossil Creek in central Arizona.

Addressed to Regional Forester Corbin Newman, the notice states that the Forest Service has failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the repatriation of native fish while management strategies continue to adversely impact the fish and their habitat.

The loach minnow and spikedace – two Arizona native fish species that are federally listed as Threatened – were returned to Fossil Creek last November.

The Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to ensure their activities do not adversely impact listed species. In this case, the conservationists say, the Forest Service has continued its status quo management operations at Fossil Creek despite changed circumstances.

In light of this, and the impending deluge of visitors expected over the summer camping season, the Center filed its notice of intent to sue.

Fossil Creek is a perennial, travertine-forming tributary of the Verde River located along the border between the Tonto and Coconino National Forests. It is a sensitive riparian ecosystem newly recovering from 100 years of diverted base flows used for power generation until a dam was removed in 2005.

Restocking rare fish species into Fossil Creek.
Summer 2007. (Photo courtesy
Arizona Game and Fish)

Field biologists from the Arizona Game and Fish Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Center for Biological Diversity transferred the threatened species of fish into the perennially flowing stream using a carefully regulated process that allows the fish to acclimate to the new waters.

But since the return of full flows to Fossil Creek in 2005, “the streamside deposition of trash and human waste and the streamside degradation from increased overnight camping and trampling has reached an unacceptable level,” the Center says in its notice to the Forest Service.

“The 2007 recreation season was particularly hard on Fossil Creek as human waste and garbage littered the banks, broken tree branches marked user-created trails, and kayaks arrived by the truck-load,” the notice states.

The loach minnow and spikedace, along with razorback sucker and Gila topminnow, also federally listed, have been repatriated to Fossil Creek following the decommissioning of Arizona Public Service hydropower plants and the restoration of water to the creek.

The creek had been dammed and water removed from its 14-mile course for a century until environmental groups, the Yavapai-Apache Nation, and Arizona Public Service signed an historic settlement agreement to restore the creek in 2000.

Water was fully restored in 2005, and the loach minnow and spikedace were returned in late 2007.

Other native fish, including Sonora and desert sucker, roundtail chub, and speckled dace, have persisted in the creek following nonnative-fish-removal activities performed by state and federal agencies.

Visitation to Fossil Creek has increased since the restoration of flows, and the visitors have brought trash, off-road vehicle use, and firearm use.

“The Forest Service has refused to adequately respond to the increasing damage or to use its authority to curtail abuse,” the Center alleges. “The resulting impacts reduce the quality of the habitat for the loach minnow and spikedace, causing unnecessary threats to their survival.”

“Fossil Creek is a natural wonder,” said Robin Silver, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s certainly no surprise that people want to enjoy this restored waterway, but there are few places in Arizona so well-suited to supporting populations of these highly imperiled fish. The Forest Service must better manage recreation at Fossil Creek, or the years of effort to restore it will have been wasted.”

The Center has called on the Forest Service to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service, complete management plans that will address recreation and protect listed species, and impose and enforce camping restrictions as necessary to protect Fossil Creek until a management plan is implemented.

In its notice of intent to sue, the Center says it and other groups have waited “patiently” for the Tonto and Coconino Forest Supervisors to protect Fossil Creek. “In correspondence, dated September 11, 2007, and December 15, 2007, and in meetings of November 13, 2007 and May 22, 2008, we have requested protection commensurate to the increasing recreational pressures.”

But little has been done.

“The Forest Service has exhibited an incredible lack of ability or desire to take the management actions necessary to preserve this wonderful place or the spikedace and loach minnow,” said Michelle Harrington, rivers conservation manager for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“We have repeatedly asked for an emergency closure of overnight camping to reduce the amount of traffic and waste in and along the stream,” Harrington said, “but the agency continues to drag its feet and offers no solutions or commitments.”

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