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Column: Salish Sucker Threatened By Habitat Loss And Local Politicians
By Glen Thompson. Sumas Mountain is the last mountain in the Cascades range that continues north from Washington State. In the North Cascades a number of creatures have evolved that live nowhere else on earth.
Two examples are the Salish Sucker Catostomus sp. and the Nootsack Dace Rhinichthys Cataractae sp. These endangered fresh water fish are endemic to the area, occurring only in a few watersheds, mostly in the Fraser Valley.
Their numbers, like many Aquatic Species at Risk, have been in decline since the late 60â€™s.
In January, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) released a joint recovery strategy for the Salish Sucker and the Nootsack Dace. These fish share the same Critical Habitat. This is the second recovery strategy for the Nootsack Dace. In September 2009, the first recovery strategy ended up the subject of a federal court case. Eco-Justice, who legally represented the small minnow, stated â€œscientists on the Recovery Team mapped the location of its critical habitat and included those maps in a draft recovery strategy. However, DFO officials removed these maps from the final recovery strategy.â€ Justice Campbell ruled in favour of the minnow and described the case as â€œa story about the creation and application of policy by the Minister in clear contravention of the law, and a reluctance to be held accountable for failure to follow the law.â€ The new strategy includes Critical Habitat mapping for both species. Christianne Wilhelmson, of the Georgia Strait Alliance said she is â€œvery satisfiedâ€ with the new strategy because â€œnow itâ€™s based on scienceâ€.
She went on to say she is â€œdisheartened that 7 years have gone by and DFO is more interested in court than protecting speciesâ€.
Last December, the dispute between DFO and Aquatic Species at Risk resumed. This time it was the Critical Habitat of the Orca that was decided by the federal court. Once again the court ruled DFO was acting unlawfully stating â€œThe Minister of Fisheries and Oceans erred in law in determining that the critical habitat of the Resident Killer Whales was already legally protected by existing laws of Canada; â€¦ Ministerial discretion does not legally protect critical habitat within the meaning of section 58 of SARA, and it was unlawful for the Minister to have cited discretionary provisions of the Fisheries Act in the Protection Statement.â€ The federal rulings set precedents for many species, including the Salish Sucker.
DFO is not the only threat to the Salish Sucker. Local politicians were quick to use media coverage of the recovery strategy to criticize its proposed remedies.
Dr. Mike Pearson of the Salish Sucker Recovery Team, said the proposed setbacks Les objects to â€œare guidelines and there are no plans to change existing land useâ€. When asked about the importance of the Salish Suckerâ€™s survival, he said â€œAs you lose diversity, you lose flexibility for the futureâ€. He said there are approximately 10,000 fish left in 10 populations and that â€œan event has a high chance of wiping out a population that smallâ€. Regarding their overall chance of survival he said â€œitâ€™s too early to tell, it depends largely on what happens in the next 20 years.â€ He added â€œtheyâ€™re a tough little fish, they can bounce back quickly.â€ Time will tell if the recovery strategy and the resultant action plan prevents the extinction of the Salish Sucker.
Editor’s Note: We are pleased to welcome Glen Thompson as a regular columnists. He has been a contributor to Today as a letter writer and has commented on many issues regarding the environment and the issue of conflict grave. Glen is from Friends of The Chilliwack River Valley. For more information call 604-847-3732 or Click Here.