Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2010 9:00 AM
State wants to combine two cases against Department of Fish and Game
By TIM HEARDEN
A San Francisco judge is considering whether to move a lawsuit challenging state water diversion permit requirements out of politically charged Siskiyou County in far Northern California.
The state Department of Fish and Game requested a change of venue for the suit filed by the California Farm Bureau Federation, which claimed the state is violating ranchers' property and water rights.
At a hearing Sept. 9, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith heard arguments and said he would be issuing a written decision soon, according to Jack Rice, the CFBF's environmental counsel.
The state wants the case combined with another filed against Fish and Game by environmental groups, including Earthjustice and Klamath Riverkeeper, Rice said.
Both suits challenge aspects of special blanket streambed alteration and incidental take permits set up for landowners in two remote valleys in an attempt to save threatened coho salmon.
"The motion is to coordinate the two cases," Rice said, adding that the Farm Bureau opposes the motion. "There's just no connection really between the two cases so there's no reason to move it."
The DFG has a policy of not commenting on ongoing litigation, said Dana Michaels, an agency spokeswoman.
The agency's motion is part of a chess game of sorts that's ensuing over the Farm Bureau lawsuit. Separately the agency has filed a demurrer, which is a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the Farm Bureau has no basis for a suit.
That motion is slated to be considered Sept. 21 in Siskiyou County Superior Court in Yreka, Calif.
The state has told landowners in the Scott and Shasta valleys they could face fines or jail if they didn't sign up for the watershed-wide permits or obtain permits on their own. While a majority of ranchers obtained the blanket permits during an enrollment period last spring, others refused to sign up and have since been sent additional warning letters and received visits from Fish and Game wardens.
Environmentalists, meanwhile, claim the state has never properly enforced laws relating to water diversions and that the blanket permits violate the California Endangered Species and Environmental Quality acts.
Rice said it's unclear whether Goldsmith has the legal authority to snatch a case from the Siskiyou County Superior Court, where the Farm Bureau suit was filed.
"He ... seemed to think there was a connection between the two cases because they both talk about the programs, Rice said. "It's a little strange the way they've gone about it here. I don't know what's going to happen."
California Farm Bureau Federation: http://cfbf.org
California Department of Fish and Game: www.dfg.ca.gov