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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Fisher May Get Second Chance at Protection

WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it will review eleven out of 17 species that were petitioned for action under the Endangered Species Act. The agency found seven skink species, a butterfly, two beetles, and the distinct population segment (DPS) of the Rocky Mountain fisher, which had been deemed "not warranted" in 2011, "may be warranted" for listing under the ESA at this time, according to the 90-day petition finding published Tuesday. The agency noted that these 90-day findings are "the first benchmark in its assessment of whether plants or animals identified in a petition may require federal protection."

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Defenders of Wildlife (DoW), with other conservation allies, petitioned the Service in 2009 on behalf of the fisher DPS, but the agency issued a negative finding. As reports of trapping, and "incidental" or non-target trapping increased, the groups filed another petition in 2013.

"Fishers are still legally trapped in Montana, and as trapping for wolves, bobcats and other species has been on the rise in Idaho and Montana, so have levels of 'incidental' trapping of fishers. Twice as many fishers have been incidentally trapped in Idaho since 2008 as were captured from 2002 to 2007. Reported non-target catch of fishers by individual fur-takers in Idaho from the 2010-2011 season through the 2013-2014 season have totaled 142, 62 of which have been killed. It is unknown how many fishers are incidentally trapped and killed in Montana each year because the state does not maintain records of non-target catch," the CBD noted in their reaction statement to the petition finding.

Fishers are related to weasels, mink, martens and otters. The larger males can grow to 47 inches long and weigh up to 13 pounds. They are one of the few predators that will kill and eat porcupines, but they are "dietary generalists," and will eat berries as well as small hunted prey, according to the agency's fact sheet.

"Protections and conservation strategies provided by an endangered species listing could turn the tide for fishers in the Rockies," Kylie Paul, the DoW Rockies and Plains representative, said. "This population can't afford to wait any longer."

The seven skink listing petitions that presented enough substantial information to merit further review are all found in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. "They look similar to standard lizards but feature shorter necks and legs. One common threat to these skinks appears to be predation by mammals like rats and mongoose," the agency said.

The CBD petitioned for the skinks in 2014, after a 2012 scientific study not only indentified them for the first time, but found them to be near extinction. "Although reptiles have been around for hundreds of millions of years and survived every major extinction period, now, due largely to human impacts, they're dying off at up to 10,000 times the historic extinction rate. About 20 percent of reptiles in the world are endangered or vulnerable to extinction. Within the Caribbean, scientists estimate that reptiles have levels of endangerment that are at or near the highest levels worldwide," the CBD said.

The Service also found that the petitions to list the Great Basin silverspot butterfly in the southwest, the Scott riffle beetle found only in one location in Kansas, and the narrow-footed diving beetle in eastern Wyoming also presented sufficient information to warrant further review.

The six petitions the agency said do not merit further review due to a lack of substantial information include a petition to delist the Cabinet-Yaak population of grizzly bears, a petition to uplist the same grizzly population from threatened to endangered status, a petition to list the Yellowstone bison, and petitions to list the Colorado desert fringe-toed lizard, the Kings River slender salamander and the Sandstone night lizard.

Comments and information are due by March 14.

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