(CN) - Rocky Mountain fishers, rare forest mammals, are once again being reviewed for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced. Listing these fishers under the Act was determined to be “not warranted” in 2011, but the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) petitioned the agency again on behalf of the fishers in September 2013.
Under the timeline mandated by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the agency was to have responded to that petition within 90 days. That 90-day petition finding was not published until January 2016, which prompted a lawsuit and a resulting settlement agreement giving the agency until Sept. 30 of this year to issue its determination as to whether the Northern Rocky Mountain population of fishers merits listing status under the ESA, the CBD said. The initiation of the current status review is part of that process, and one that should have been completed within one year of the petition filing, according to the timeframe outlined in the regulations for the ESA.
Fishers are now found across Canada, and in only four areas of the United States – New England, the Great Lakes, the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rocky Mountains. “Historically, fishers occurred in northern coniferous and mixed forests of Canada and the northern United States. Their range extended from the mountainous areas in the southern Yukon and Labrador Provinces southward to central California and Wyoming, the Great Lakes and Appalachian regions, and New England. Currently, the distribution of the fisher has retracted significantly south of the Canadian border and in the western United States,” the agency said. Their decline is due to the loss of their forest habitat from logging, and to trapping, which historically decimated fisher populations for their sleek fur, and which now is more often due to fishers being caught in traps set for other species.
According to the CBD, fishers are still being legally trapped in Montana, and also threatened by incidental trapping in Idaho and Montana. Fishers are often caught in traps meant for martens, and increased trapping for wolves and bobcats in Idaho and Montana has meant more incidental trapping of fishers. Of those that have been reported, nontarget catch of fishers by individual fur-takers in Idaho between the 2010-2011 season and the 2014-2015 season totaled 159 fishers, of which 66 were killed, the group said.
“Northern Rockies fishers desperately need protection under the Endangered Species Act to limit continued threats to their survival, including logging and trapping,” Andrea Santarsiere, a CBD senior attorney, said. “We’re hopeful the Fish and Wildlife Service will choose to protect fishers and give the species a fighting chance at recovery.”
Fishers are part of the weasel family, along with mink, martens and otters. They can grow up to 47 inches long and weigh up to 13 pounds. Though they live in forests, they prefer areas near open water such as streams, and often nest in cavities in dead trees. They are one of the few predators that can kill porcupines, but they also eat hares, squirrels, mice and birds, the agency said.
Comments and information on the status review are due Feb. 12.
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