Greens Want to Revive Fisher Listing Proposal

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has withdrawn its listing proposal for the western population of fisher, claiming the threats are not as significant as previously believed. The conservation organizations that petitioned and sued the agency for a listing determination on behalf of the fisher say the agency bowed to political pressure, and they are contemplating a legal challenge to the withdrawal according to the Center for Biological Diversity’s response to the action, which is scheduled for publication Monday.
     Fishers are North American members of the weasel family, and they live in mature and old growth coniferous and mixed forests. Their range extends from the Yukon and Labrador provinces in Canada into central California and Wyoming, as well as across the Great Lakes and Appalachian regions into New England. Their habitat has been subject to timber removal and encroachment by development. Both logging and fur trapping decimated fisher populations in the past.
     The proposed listing as a threatened species of the West Coast distinct population segment of the fisher was to have included the animal’s historical range from the southern Sierra Nevada in California through Oregon and Washington. Within that range, there are two native populations, one in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, and one in the Klamath Mountains in northern California and southern Oregon, according to the proposed rule published in October last year. There are also small reintroduced populations in the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Olympic Peninsula area in Washington, and Crater Lake area in Oregon. Other than the reintroduced populations, fishers are considered to be locally extinct in Washington and most of Oregon.
     The agency admits that it does not have enough information to determine that the reintroduced populations will thrive, and that concerns regarding declines in the native populations persist, according to the withdrawal action.
     The agency had previously determined that wildfires, fire suppression activities, rodenticide use by marijuana growers, and the species’ small isolated populations were threats to fishers in this range.
     Now, the agency maintains that these stressors are not of such magnitude that this population of fishers meets the definition of a species on the brink of extinction, or likely to become so in the foreseeable future “There has been a substantial increase in support and interest by federal, state, tribal, and private stakeholders in implementing voluntary and proactive fisher conservation measures,” Robyn Thorson, Director for the Service’s Pacific Region, said. “It is clearly resulting in a much improved long term conservation outlook for fisher.”
     Tanya Sanerib, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), strongly disagrees with the agency’s assessment. “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. Fishers may be tough enough to prey on porcupines, but they need Endangered Species Act protection to survive.”
     Ben Solvesky, an ecologist with the CBD’s petitioning ally Sierra Forest Legacy, concurred. “If we are going to save the fisher for future generations then it needs range-wide protection,” Solvesky said. “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.”
     Noting that a federal judge in Montana had recently criticized the agency for bowing to political pressure in reversing a proposed listing for the wolverine, the CBD said that it and its allies were considering a legal challenge to the fisher withdrawal. “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,” Sanerib said.

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