West Coast Fisher Denied Endangered Species Protection

14 April 2016 | Center for Biological Diversity News Release

PORTLAND, Ore.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today denied Endangered Species Act protection to West Coast fishers, mid-sized forest carnivores that were proposed for federal protection in October throughout their range in California, Oregon and Washington. Following pressure from the timber industry, the Service withdrew the proposed protection despite overwhelming scientific evidence that the survival of the rare carnivores is threatened by logging, toxic chemicals used by marijuana growers, and other factors.

“The politically driven reversal of proposed protection for the fisher is the latest example of the Fish and Wildlife Service kowtowing to the wishes of industry,” said Tanya Sanerib, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Fishers may be tough enough to prey on porcupines, but they need Endangered Species Act protection to survive.”

“If we are going to save the fisher for future generations then it needs range-wide protection,” said Ben Solvesky, an ecologist with Sierra Forest Legacy. “It is incredibly disappointing that after decades of waiting and a mountain of scientific information supporting the need to list, the agency yet again let politics trump science.”

Fishers are cat-like, medium-sized members of the weasel family with slender, brown bodies and long, bushy tails. Fishers once roamed from British Columbia to Southern California, but due to intense logging and trapping pressure, today only two naturally occurring populations survive — a population of 300 fishers in the southern Sierra Nevada and a population of 250 to a few thousand fishers in southern Oregon and Northern California. They have been reintroduced in three populations in the northern Sierra, southern Cascades and Washington state.

Fishers select old-growth forests because the canopy cover helps protect them from predators and extreme temperatures, and because old trees and snags provide the structures they rely on for resting and denning. In addition to logging, California and Oregon populations are threatened by the toxic chemicals used by illegal marijuana growers, especially rodenticides, which poison fishers and their prey at alarming rates. Eighty-five percent of fishers tested in California have been exposed to rodenticides, which represents a six percent increase in two years.

The Center petitioned to protect the fisher in 1994 and again in 2000 with Sierra Forest Legacy and allies. The fisher was added to the candidate waiting list in 2004 when the Service determined that protection for the animal was warranted but precluded by other fiscal priorities. The Center sued in 2010 over the delay in protecting the fisher and the agency was required under a subsequent settlement to issue a decision this year.

The Center and allies are considering a legal challenge to today’s withdrawal. Earlier this week a federal judge in Montana criticized the Service for bowing to political pressure in reversing a proposed listing for another carnivore, the wolverine, and charged the agency with protecting species at the earliest possible point in time.

“Just like with the wolverine and the coastal marten, once more we may be forced to head to court to defend species, science and the law from political interference,” said Sanerib.

Contact: Tanya Sanerib, (971) 717-6407, tsanerib@biologicaldiversity.org
Ben Solvesky, (928) 221-6102, ben@sierraforestlegacy.org

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Endangered Species News is Produced by Endangered Species Journalist Craig Kasnoff

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