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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Agency Says Pot Growers Threaten Rare Mammal

WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed listing the West Coast population of fisher as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Historically, the thickly-furred member of the otter family was decimated in the Pacific states by logging and fur-trappers, but it now faces new threats, including the use of rodenticides by marijuana growers, according to the proposed listing published Monday.

The listing proposal was spurred by a 2011 settlement between the USFWS and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), which resulted in a five-year work plan for the agency to speed listing decisions for hundreds of species across the country. The CBD had petitioned the agency in 2000 to list the western distinct population segment (DPS) of the fisher in California, Oregon and Washington as endangered.

"I'm elated that 14 years after we first tried to get these elusive animals protected, they're finally proposed for the Endangered Species Act protection they need to survive," Noah Greenwald, CBD's endangered species director was quoted as saying in the group's response to the listing. "Now more than ever fishers need protection from old-growth forest logging, trapping and poisoning."

The West Coast populations are geographically separated from northern and eastern populations. There are now only two native populations within the historical range of the western DPS, which once covered the forests of California, Oregon and Washington. There is a small group of about 300 fishers in the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, and a population in the Klamath Mountains of northern California and southern Oregon, which may have as few as several hundred members or as many as 4,000. The fisher has also been reintroduced in the Northern Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, and the Crater Lake area in Oregon, according to the agency's statement. The fisher is considered to be locally extinct in Washington and Oregon with the exception of the reintroduced populations.

The fishers are about three feet long, slender with short legs and weigh about as much as a large house cat. They are one of the few predators of porcupines. They require old-growth forest for the hollow logs and tree snags needed for nesting and denning.

The CBD noted in its statement that public forest lands in Oregon are under legislative threat by those who want to turn the lands over to private logging interests for clearcutting.

"We stand ready to work collaboratively with federal, state and private entities to ensure a strong and healthy future for our Pacific forests, the livelihoods they support, and the fisher, while minimizing disruption to timber practices," the USFWS said.

The listing proposal notes "the illicit use of anti-coagulant rodenticides on public and community forest lands within fisher habitat as a significant threat to the species." The use of poisons been has been verified at illegal marijuana sites within the fisher's habitat on public, private and tribal lands in California, according to the agency's statement. "Rodenticide exposure in fishers has been documented in fisher populations in the Klamath Mountains and Southern Sierra Nevada, as well as in the reintroduced population at Olympic National Park in Washington."

The agency will hold seven informational meetings and one public hearing in the three involved states. No critical habitat is being proposed at this time.

Comments and information are due by Jan. 5, 2015.

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