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December 3
1887 - Prohibitionist Henry Needham purchases land in Newhall, attempts to establish "dry" colony [story]
H.C. Needham

Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine Hellrigel
| Sunday, Aug 17, 2014

DianneErskineHellrigelAmong the endangered species in the Santa Clarita Valley you will find the arroyo Southwestern toad, least Bell’s vireo and the unarmored threespine stickleback. The Southwestern pond turtle is threatened, but not yet listed. Today, we’ll be concentrating on the unarmored threespine stickleback. This little fish has gotten a huge amount of publicity lately.

What exactly is a stickleback? It is a tiny, 2-inch fish that has no scales, lives in fresh water, is a fierce protector of its nests, and is highly endangered. In Santa Clarita it lives in three areas of the Santa Clara River. The San Francisquito SEA (Significant Ecological Area) preserves the downstream stickleback habitat.

Recently I was at a legislative breakfast with city, county, state and federal politicians in attendance. The central theme that kept popping up was, “Who’s more important: People or this little fish?” All agreed that in this case, when the people of Bouquet Canyon had no water, the people were more important. Now, regardless of whether you agree, that sentiment has brought about this article on these little fish.

deh_stickleback1In case you’ve been living in a bubble since 2005, here is a quick recap of the people’s dilemma with the fish versus water.

In 2005 we had an El Nino winter. Bouquet Creek flooded; lots of debris floated down the canyon, blocking the flow of water and creating a dam, which caused the water to flow over the road and disappear, leaving the groundwater for the cabins and LARC Ranch to dry up.

This means that all of the people who live there cannot take a shower, wash a dish or flush a toilet. The best they can do is to truck in water, which is outrageously expensive. Facilities such as LARC Ranch might not be able to keep their doors open when the money runs out. Cabin owners are paying for a cabin they might not be able to use due to lack of water.

deh_stickleback2In order to remove the debris to replenish the aquifer, the Forest Service says a NEPA study must be done to determine whether there are endangered species, specifically unarmored threespine stickleback, in the creek. And you cannot change the flow of a natural river. Period.

The California Department of Fish and Game has done research in Santa Clarita on Significant Ecological Areas. In Santa Clarita, there are five SEAs, as follows: The Santa Clara River, the Santa Susana Mountains, San Francisquito Canyon, Lyon Canyon, and Valley Oaks Savannah.

I find it interesting that Bouquet Canyon was not mentioned at all. Could it be there are no sticklebacks there?

This is a dilemma that needs to be solved so the people whose way of life is threatened can get back to living the life they choose to live. Let’s hope the powers that be can solve this problem quickly and equitably for the people, and the little fish – if they are in the canyon at all.


Read more about the unarmored threespine stickleback [here].


Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. If you’d like to be part of the solution, join the Community Hiking Club’s Stewardship Committee. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.



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  1. Thank you, Salvador Arana!!!

  2. Don Clark Don Clark says:

    What will we be able to ban or restrict to save this useless POS as we did up NOrth?

  3. Bill Boyce says:

    Thank you Dianne for this timely article. I am a former federal fisheries biologist who worked 16 years as such. Of these, 4 were spent with the US Forest Service in Tahoe/CA, Aspen/CO, Ketchikan/AK, and Mt.Hood/OR. The remaining 12 were spent working for the Inter American Tropical Tuna Commission at Scripps Inst. of Oceanography in La Jolla, CA. I KNOW FISHERIES and I KNOW the hydrological history in Bouquet, as well as the fact that Bouquet Canyon stickleback were inadvertently planted by the California Fish and Game back in the early 70’s with the trout plants in Bouquet to satisfy the need for family outdoor recreational activity in our community.

    I also happen to be a cabin owner in Bouquet for the last 23 years and have followed this “fishy” situation from the inception back in 2009 when the Angeles National Forest and the US Fish and Wildlife Service “started” calling the stickleback in Bouquet Canyon the endangered UTS (unarmored threespined stickleback) type as opposed to the 99% population that were un-endangered PTS (partially armored variety). Redacted FOIAs and lots of non-replies by federal government biologists had my hackles up knowing I must be onto a questionable science issue or else my inquiries would have been answered MUCH AS I HAD DONE when corporations, industries, and the public asked for clarification on my field work and analysis during my 16 years of federal service.

    A very concise genetic study WAS conducted and found the stickleback in Bouquet to be “low plated morphs” and thus considered a PIRU area gene stock.. NOT AN ENDANGERED STOCK. Meanwhile L.A. County has been paying absorbent amounts of money to a few select biologists who get paid handsomely to “net these fish” so that two select road culverts can be cleaned out each year. These fish were netted, and these contracts were awarded based on these fish being ENDANGERED. Suspect regulations were being handed down to the cabins in their permit renewal process with no water quality studies to back up claims and the cabins stood to lose their permits entirely. We DID our homework, we DID our certified water quality work, we know the science and that of the polluted quality in the Santa Clara River that the REAL UTS seem to survive in quite well. So we have been patiently waiting for the feds to finally come up with their conclusions and where we in Bouquet Canyon stand to either win or lose. Then and only then will we play our hand of what we have to throw on the table.

    Hopefully the USFWS can handle the situation as they did with the 21,000 home,school,industrial park, and other mega development that Newhall Land has been positioning to build on the flanks of the Santa Clara River. And that is give the residents of the lower canyon and the cabin owners THEIR WATER, and do what is right for public safety on Bouquet Canyon Road by allowing the LA County to do the corrections needed to the stream bed channel to correct the seepage issues by keeping the creek in its channel. This can only be done if the canyon residents are given the SAME GREEN LIGHT in their Biological Opinion as what the USFWS gladly handed to Newhall Land for their mega development in UTS habitat.

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