‘Bow to Industry’ Blamed for Suit Against Agency

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Four conservation groups claim the Fish and Wildlife Service’s refusal to protect the Pacific fisher was politically motivated, according to their notice of intent to sue. “Although the Service had recently proposed federal protections for Pacific fishers, the agency reversed course at the last minute in a bow to the timber industry,” the announcement said.
     On Monday, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Protection Information Center, the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and the Sierra Forest Legacy groups announced their intent to sue the agency for withdrawing its proposal to list the Pacific fisher as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The groups are represented by Earthjustice.
     “Today the Pacific fisher has been isolated to just two locations in the United States,” Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie, said. “If this doesn’t justify the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service using our bedrock environmental law, the Endangered Species Act, to protect an animal that needs our help to survive, then I don’t know what does.”
     The Service maintained at the time that its decision to withdraw the listing proposal was due to a determination that stressors on the fishers were not as significant as previously believed, and that stakeholders had stepped up with voluntary conservation measures.
     “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s denial of their own stated concerns and threats to this rare forest carnivore strongly suggests the agency has lost its professional courage to uphold its mission to protect biodiversity due to political pressure. Politics has no place in listing decisions,” Susan Britting, executive director of Sierra Forest Legacy, said.
     The west coast distinct population segment of the fisher comprises only two naturally occurring populations in southern Oregon/northern California, and in the southern Sierra Nevada in California. Small populations have been experimentally reintroduced in the northern Sierra Nevada, the southern Cascades, and in the state of Washington, where they are otherwise locally extinct.
     Fishers are members of the weasel family. Their numbers were historically decimated due to trapping for the fur trade, and they continue to be impacted by logging, which destroys their habitat. The west coast, or Pacific, population segment once ranged from British Columbia to southern California, and is distinct from eastern fishers and Rocky Mountain fishers, which are also being considered for listing.
     The groups claim that the Service’s withdrawal of the listing proposal is just one of several decisions where the agency has bowed to industry pressure instead of following its mandate to protect imperiled species.
     “The decision to deny protections to the Pacific fisher is the latest in a string of politically motivated decisions from the Fish and Wildlife Service, in which regional staff overruled decisions by Service biologists to protect species. Two months ago a federal judge in Montana criticized the Service for bowing to political pressures in illegally reversing a proposal to protect the estimated 300 wolverines remaining in the lower 48 states. And in December 2015 conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the Service for inexplicably denying protection to Humboldt martens, another rare west coast carnivore on the brink of extinction,” according to the announcement.
     Their claim is supported by a 2015 survey from the Union of Concerned Scientists, they said, which surveyed federal scientists regarding scientific integrity in federal agencies. “The FWS should work to improve scientific integrity practices and minimize political interference in scientific decision making throughout the agency,” according the survey’s findings.
     Arguments presented in a lawsuit recently filed on behalf of the Pacific fisher against the U.S. Forest Service by the Sequoia Forestkeeper conservation group also echo the arguments presented by the groups planning to sue the FWS. The lawsuit asks for an injunction to stop logging activity in two projects in the Pacific fishers’ range until the Forest Service reevaluates new scientific information.
     “These activities are likely to significantly affect the Pacific fisher in a manner and extent the Forest Service has not previously considered, based on the Forest Service’s own scientific research…Thinning, logging, and other treatment proposals have the potential to impede fisher migration through the central portion of the Greenhorn Mountains and would likely have drastic effects on the genetic exchange of fishers in an area where the species’ genetic diversity is at its highest,” according to the lawsuit.
     The Greenhorn Mountains encompass the isolated Southern Sierra Nevada population of fishers, where only an estimated 300 fishers remain. The two contested logging projects in the lawsuit comprise two of eight projects that riddle the fishers’ range there.
     “The fisher has waited long enough for protection,” Tom Wheeler, program director for the Environmental Protection Information Center, said. “No amount of agency delay, political pressure or obfuscation of science can change the truth: The fisher is threatened with extinction.”

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