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A biologist with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries with a male Alabama sturgeon found in the Alabama River near Marion in April.
AP photo by Joe Songer
A biologist with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries with a male Alabama sturgeon found in the Alabama River near Marion in April.

Sturgeon deserves protection, court says

MOBILE (AP) — A federal appeals court has ruled that the rare Alabama sturgeon, a 30-inch tawny orange fish that once thrived in the state's rivers, is a distinct species that deserves a place on the government's endangered species list.

The three-judge panel on the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service acted properly in determining that the sturgeon is endangered.

The court unanimously rejected an industry group's arguments that under federal law the sturgeon could not be listed because it is now found only in one state or that the federal wildlife agency should have already spelled out the "critical habitat" area needed to keep the sturgeon from extinction.

"A species in free-fall needs all the protection it can get," Judge Ed Carnes wrote in the 62-page opinion affirming a lower-court decision.

The 11th Circuit's ruling, largely unnoticed since it was issued in February, was reported by the Press-Register in a story Friday.

The ruling represents "a complete victory" for the Fish & Wildlife Service, said Jason Rylander, a staff attorney with Defenders of Wildlife, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental organization that filed a friend-of-court brief siding with the agency.

"I think the court has spoken with one voice that Congress does have the power to protect endangered species wherever they live," Rylander told the Mobile newspaper.

The industry group, known as the Alabama-Tombigbee Rivers Coalition, s "obviously disappointed," said one of its lawyers, Bill Satterfield of Birmingham.

After the full 12-judge appellate court declined to review the panel's February ruling, the coalition, which includes Alabama Power Co. and commercial river users, is considering whether to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, Satterfield said.

If it survives an appeal, the 11th Circuit's decision would stand as a pivotal turn in a controversy that has been ongoing since 1993 when federal officials proposed putting the sturgeon on the endangered list.

Last month, state biologists found a sturgeon in the wild for the first time since 1999. With their federal counterparts, they are now tracking it in hopes of locating more.

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Information from: Press-Register, http://www.al.com/mobileregister

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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