Environmentalists To USFWS: Protect Lake Sturgeon Or We'll Sue

May 30, 2019

A coalition of state and national environmental groups says it plans to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect Lake Sturgeon. The fish is an endangered species in the state, but environmentalists say it needs federal protection. 

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, this species of fish is millions of years old and used to be abundant in the Great Lakes and Ohio River basin. But now, their numbers are low because of things like pollution and the construction of dams — which prevent Lake Sturgeon from reaching their spawning areas.

“They’re sort of an indicator of how our environment is doing and the Lake Sturgeon, particularly here in Indiana, is not doing well,” says Gary Moody, director of the nonprofit Fishable Indiana Streams for Hoosiers (FISH).

FISH, the Hoosier Environmental Council, the Illinois Environmental Council, and the Center For Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit notice against the Fish and Wildlife Service this week. They say they intend to sue the agency for stalling a petition to list Lake Sturgeon under the Endangered Species Act.

Anyone can petition the Fish and Wildlife Service to list a species under the act. Once a petition is received, the agency has about 90 days to review the petition and decide whether there's enough information to suggest the species should be listed. If it thinks a listing may be warranted, the agency will officially propose the listing and open it up to public comment. 

That 90-day period is what's at issue here. The environmental groups say the Fish and Wildlife Service should have decided whether or not to move forward with the petition by Aug. 12, 2018 — or May 14, 2019 for a longer, 12-month finding.

Mark Templeton with the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago is serving as counsel for the groups. He says unlike Indiana, some states haven’t listed Lake Sturgeon as an endangered or threatened species — which is why it needs the federal listing.

“That would provide protections in those states as well as provide other kinds of federal programs to help restore habitat and other efforts as well,” Templeton says.

Environmental groups are giving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 60 days to respond. The agency declined to comment.

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.