Feds Settle to Protect Eight California Rivers

The Amargosa River near Tecopa, California, just 90 miles east of Las Vegas. (Patrick Donnelly / Center for Biological Diversity)

LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge in Los Angeles approved a settlement Friday requiring the Trump administration to prepare and implement plans to protect eight “wild and scenic” rivers in Southern California.

The settlement comes in response to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity on March 27, which claimed the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S Forest Service violated a 1968 federal law protecting the “natural condition” of wild rivers by delaying management and protection plans.

According to the lawsuit, Congress designated segments of the eight California rivers for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 2009, requiring the agencies to install protection plans for the rivers by 2013.

The rivers wind through three national forests and other public lands and provide essential habitat for wildlife such as California spotted owls, the rubber boa and the San Bernardino flying squirrel, according to the complaint.

The settlement approved by U.S District Judge John F. Walter Friday will compel both agencies to execute river management plans by Dec 31, 2024.

“This is a victory for some of Southern California’s most beautiful rivers. Too bad it took a lawsuit to get federal officials to do the right thing,” Ileene Anderson, a scientist with the Center, said in a statement Friday. “These waters and ecosystems are lifelines for imperiled plants and animals. They provide respite and recreation for all of us, and we need the government to protect these special places for our kids and grandkids.”

River management plans protect water flow and water quality from agricultural run-off, off-road vehicles and other activities that could damage the river.

As part of the agreement, the Center will dismiss all claims against the agencies, though the court will maintain jurisdiction and oversight over the settlement.

The environmentalists can also return to court if they feel the agencies aren’t complying. The settlement allows an extension if funding gaps cause delays in implementation.

The settlement covers the Owens Headwaters, Cottonwood Creek, Piru Creek, North Fork San Jacinto River, Fuller Mill Creek, Palm Canyon Creek, and Bautista Creek.

Piru creek is a tributary of the Santa Clara River and contains unique geological formations and unusual gorges. It is also part of critical California condor nesting and roosting sites, as well as habitat for the threatened arroyo toad and native trout.

Congress designated more than 26 miles of the Amargosa River in Inyo and San Bernardino counties as scenic, wild or recreational.

The Amargosa River is a spring-fed perennial desert river system. It harbors a “remarkable level of biodiversity” in the hottest and driest part of the Mojave Desert, according to the Center.

“This includes critical habitat for the entire wild population of the endangered Amargosa vole and endangered Amargosa niterwort plant, as well as two endangered bird species, the least Bell’s vireo and southwestern willow flycatcher,” a statement from the Center said.

Government attorneys did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Also this week, a federal judge in South Carolina ruled the Trump administration unlawfully delayed implementation of the Clean Water Rule.

In that case, U.S. District Judge David Norton lifted a two-year stay on Obama-era provisions regulating seasonal and other wetlands, and also identified which wetlands and waterways fall under federal regulation.

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