A federal judge upheld protection of 8.6 million acres as critical habitat for the Sacramento River green sturgeon, a threatened species. The designation extends to San Francisco Bay and the waters north of Monterey Bay.
U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton’s decision Friday rejects a challenge by the Building Industry Association and Bay Planning Coalition.
The groups objected to designation of land along the river and bay as “critical habitat for the dwindling green sturgeon.
The green sturgeon is one of the oldest fish species in the world, existing for 160 million years. It can live up to 70 years and grow to seven feet, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which joined the lawsuit in support of federal protection.
It is believed there may be fewer than 50 spawning pairs remaining in the Sacramento River, according to a 2006 assessment, when the fish was listed as threatened.
The Endangered Species Act requires the U.S. Fisheries Service to designate critical habitat for protection of species listed as threatened or endangered, to prevent destruction of the habitat.
The builders’ lawsuit, filed in 2011, argued that the government’s blanket designation failed to balance economic interests. But Hamilton found the NMFS did take economics into account and “actually did balance the benefits of conservation with the economic impact, even though it was not obligated to do so,” she wrote.
Hamilton rejected the argument that the NMFS was obligated to perform the balancing test. And even if it was obligated, the Secretary of Commerce is not obligated to exclude any area from designation as protected, she said.
She granted a summary judgment in favor of the United States and its protection of habitat for the sturgeon.
Case: Building Industry Assoc. of Bay Area v. U.S. Dept. of Commerce, No. C11-4118PJH