Capitol Alert

Appeals court rejects challenges to fish hatcheries’ impact

Gabby Worth, 8, of Latrobe Elementary School releases rainbow trout in to the Ice House Lake as she and other students from different schools helped the California Department of Fish and Wildlife staff release hatchery raised rainbow trout into the wild on Monday, June 2, 2014.
Gabby Worth, 8, of Latrobe Elementary School releases rainbow trout in to the Ice House Lake as she and other students from different schools helped the California Department of Fish and Wildlife staff release hatchery raised rainbow trout into the wild on Monday, June 2, 2014. hamezcua@sacbee.com

A potentially far-reaching ruling released Tuesday by a Sacramento-based appellate court rejects two challenges – but not a third one – to a landmark environmental-impact review of California’s network of fish hatcheries and the practice of stocking the state’s waterways with fish.

In separate lawsuits against the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, two advocacy groups have argued that an environmental impact report finalized in January 2010 – described as “a significant effort” by the court – is flawed because it does not review each site the department stocks with fish; deferred mitigation measures; relied on current stocking practices as an environmental baseline; and did not consider a reasonable range of alternatives, including cessation of all hatchery and stocking operations.

“We disagree with the plaintiffs,” said a three-justice panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal on Tuesday in a 54-page opinion long awaited by stakeholders throughout the state. “Given the history, nature, and scope of the project under review, the department did not abuse its discretion in the manner it organized the EIR, analyzed the project, and mitigated its numerous impacts.”

The hatcheries and stocking are legally mandated enterprises, each more than a century old.

The panel’s ruling in the two cases cited Tuesday upheld previous decisions by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lloyd G. Connelly. The plaintiffs were the nonprofit groups Center for Biological Diversity, based in Tuscon, Ariz., and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, in Eureka.

“We’re disappointed and we don’t agree with it,” Noah Greenwald, endangered species director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said of the appellate ruling. “We pushed for protection for a number of amphibians harmed by the stocking program. Fish and Wildlife pushed off a lot of planning and mitigation to the future. We have no way of knowing whether it will be done and whether those decisions will be harmful to the environment.”

He said his organization “would have liked to have seen a more transparent and immediate process going forward.”

In a third case, however, the justices reversed Connelly’s ruling in favor of the fish and wildlife agency and sent it back to the lower court for further procedures.

In that matter, the Chico-based California Association for Recreational Fishing contends the state agency ignored proper procedures when it imposed qualifying requirements, monitoring and reporting obligations on private entities that stock streams, rivers and lakes. The association was represented by the Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation.

“This … saves recreational fishing from out-of-control regulators and protects everyone’s rights by reminding bureaucrats they aren’t above the law,” said Pacific Legal Foundation staff attorney Joshua Thompson.

Connelly is now required to order the department to follow proper procedures in implementing the stocking regulations.

Call The Bee’s Denny Walsh, (916) 321-1189.

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