Farmers petition feds to end endangered status of whales

Killer whales in Pacific NorthwestKiller whales in Pacific NorthwestThe Pacific Legal Foundation and Fresno County farmers today petitioned federal officials to remove the Pacific Northwest orca or killer whale from the Endangered Species Act list.

The petition -- submitted to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Fisheries -- also claims that the listing, made official in 2006, has led to regulations threatening economic harm for millions of people in California and the West.

Specifically the listing poses restrictions on San Joaquin Delta water delivery for downstream users because several species of fish orcas consume inhabit the delta waters, including salmon and steelhead.

That has farmers, already short of water from extreme dry conditions, fuming.

In the petition, Pacific Legal Foundation represents two farms, Empresas Del Bosque on Fresno County’s west side and Coburn Ranch in Dos Palos, which are among thousands of farms threatened by the orca listing. Empresas Del Bosque grows 2,200 acres of cantaloupes, almonds, asparagus, cherries, wheat and processing tomatoes.

“It is almost outrageous that killer whales out in the ocean reduce our water,” said Joe Del Bosque Jr., president of Empresas Del Bosque in a conference call.

Coburn Ranch farms 4,000 acres of almonds, wine grapes and various row crops.

The petitioners insist there is no scientific basis for treating the Pacific Northwest killer whales as a separate subspecies that is distinct from other orcas. “There is no significant difference in their biology or behavior, said Damien Schiff, Pacific Legal Foundation attorney. “This is regulation by zip code.”

The petition was filed on behalf of the Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy and Reliability, a nonprofit organization dedicated to scientific rigor in environmental regulations.