February 15, 2005

Group Seeks Protection for Eastern Fish

ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) -- A group of Western county commissioners who have problems with the Endangered Species Act has petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to have the northern snakehead, an Asian fish that's invaded the East, protected under the act.

A Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman said injurious species are exempted from protection under the act. But Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner, along with commissioners from 12 other Western states, hope their petition will show lawmakers in the East what problems the act presents to officials in the West.

The large, toothy fish has been dubbed the "Frankenfish." It can grow up to 3 feet, breathe air and wriggle across land. In many of the Eastern areas where it has turned up, there are no predators to control it.

The fish have been sold in the United States as a delicacy in Asian food markets and some have been sold in pet stores. In 2002, the federal government outlawed the transport of live snakeheads.

Pershing County Commissioner Roger Mancebo, a Democrat from Lovelock, Nev., joined Gardner, a Republican, and the other commissioners in backing the petition. He said the petition will be an eye-opener for those who have not had to deal with the Endangered Species Act in land management.

Mancebo said he hopes it will get the attention of Eastern lawmakers and bring to light how certain species are listed as endangered just because environmental groups petition for a listing.

Gardner cited problems southwestern Utah landowners have faced regarding the Endangered Species Act, especially with the desert tortoise and resulting habitat conservation plan.

"It's had a big impact on us," Gardner said. "Private property owners are denied use of their property if it affects the species."

He said grazing has been eliminated in many areas and he contends that some environmental groups are just trying to force people off the land.

The petition's purpose is to call attention to these issues through a species in the East with a potentially large habitat. The snakehead's habitat could extend through 11 states from Vermont to North Carolina, the lawmakers said.

Ken Burton, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said he does not believe the commissioners' petition will move forward. The snakehead is on a list of injurious species, and the act does not allow an injurious species to be listed.

"Living in the West, we seem to be inundated with the cries from mostly people back in the East to list everything that is walking," Mancebo said. "This was just to send a message of how silly this stuff is."