Statement Regarding Pacific Rivers Council et al v. California Department of Fish and Game
Sacramento Superior Court, Case No. 06CS0145
STANFORD, Calif.—On November 20, 2008, the Sacramento Superior Court entered an order modifying its prior July 18, 2007 judgment in Pacific Rivers Council v. Cal. Dept. of Fish and Game and granting the California Department of Fish and Game one additional year to complete an Environmental Impact Report for the State’s hatchery and fish stocking program. In return for the one-year extension to complete the environmental review required by the California Environmental Quality Act, the Department agreed to temporarily limit stocking in areas where imperiled native species are especially at risk from stocking due to predation, competition, disease, and invasives.
The interim protections agreed to by the parties and the Court are intended to minimize the harm that hatchery-raised fish inflict on sensitive native fish and amphibian species while the Department completes the environmental review that was previously due by the end of 2008. The forthcoming EIR, which will now be completed by January 2010, must evaluate the stocking program’s impacts on native species and must assess measures to avoid or minimize those impacts. Future stocking decisions will be guided by this environmental assessment.
The Court order is narrowly tailored to allow much of the Department’s research, educational, anadromous fish conservation, native fish reintroduction, and recreational angling activity to continue. For instance, mitigation and enhancement stocking from the Iron Gate, Trinity, Merced River, Mad River, Coyote Valley, Warm Springs, Mokelumne River, Nimbus, and Feather River hatcheries is expressly permitted to continue under the order. Based on the Department’s proposed implementation to date, less than 20 percent of previously stocked water bodies will be affected by these interim protections, leaving hundreds of water bodies throughout California available for continued stocking. A copy of the order is available here.
Acting on behalf of Pacific Rivers Council and the Center for Biological Diversity (Plaintiffs) in the capacity of pro bono legal counsel, the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic in August 2005 asked the Department to undertake an environmental review of the fish stocking program and to cease stocking which results in significant effects on native species. This request was supported by roughly 100 scientific studies, including some conducted by the Department itself, that demonstrate the adverse impacts of stocking activities on various native species. Because the Department never responded in any fashion to the request, the Clinic submitted a second, followup request for action in mid-2006. When the Department still did not respond in any fashion, the Clinic filed suit against the Department on behalf of Pacific Rivers Council and the Center for Biological Diversity in October 2006.
The lawsuit is based on the Department’s failure to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires that public agencies prepare an EIR for any activity that may significantly affect the environment. Plaintiffs argued that the scientific evidence of harmful impact on certain species and ecosystems is overwhelming. The Court agreed, finding after a full trial in May 2007 that the Department is required to prepare an EIR. The Department advised Plaintiffs and the Court that it could complete the EIR by December 31, 2008, and the Court entered a final judgment to that effect in July 2007.
In the spring of 2008, however, the Department advised Plaintiffs that it had not yet even begun the EIR process and required more time. In return, Plaintiffs sought interim protections for imperiled native species. The Court then directed the parties to work out an agreement that will protect native species during the delay, but will not interfere with any federal legal obligations the Department may have. Plaintiffs and the Department engaged in protracted discussions to arrive at an agreement that will maximize the ability of the Department to continue all stocking activity that is not likely to pose risk of irreversible adverse impacts on the environment in the near term, including specifically the stocking of salmon and steelhead for mitigation, enhancement, research, and educational purposes. The order entered by the Court on November 20, 2008 is the result of that agreement.
As required by CEQA, the public will now have an opportunity to participate in the environmental review process for California’s hatchery and stocking program. Comments and questions about that process should be directed to the Department’s Fisheries Branch at 916.327.8840 (www.dfg.ca.gov/fish)
The Center for Biological Diversity and Pacific Rivers Council are represented pro bono by the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic. Stanford Law School's clinical program enables students to put legal theory into practice in a specific field such as an environmental law, and to develop skills in legal practice through direct client representation. The clinics also seek to foster a lifelong commitment to public service among Stanford law school students.