A federal judge has ruled that U.S. Secretary of Interior Gale Norton acted illegally by ignoring a petition to list the Pacific fisher as "endangered" under the federal Endangered Species Act and ordered the Secretary to decide within 90 days whether listing the fisher may be warranted. The decision, issued last Friday by the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, comes some 28 months after the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, and Natural Resources Defense Council submitted the listing petition.
"Pending proposals by the U.S. Forest Service to weaken forest protection throughout the Sierra Nevada and to open up the Giant Sequoia National Monument to increased logging would seriously threaten this imperiled furbearer," said Craig Thomas, Director of the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign. "Given the court's ruling and the fisher's imperiled status, the Forest Service should reconsider its aggressive rollback of environmental protection in the Sierra Nevada's national forests."
Species Imperiled due to Habitat Decline
Logging old growth forests, in combination with historic trapping, have decimated fisher populations," said Noah Greenwald, a conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity and primary author of the petition to list the species. "The fisher requires immediate protection under the Endangered Species Act to avoid extinction."
Represented by the public-interest law firm Earthjustice, the environmental groups sued Secretary Norton in July 2001 in an attempt to force action on their petition. By law, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, a division of the Department of Interior, must decide whether a listing petition has merit within 90 days of receiving it. If the Service determines, based on the information presented in the petition, that listing may be warranted, the agency has a year to decide whether to actually list the species.
"The Fish & Wildlife Service eventually admitted that their decision for the fisher was long past due, but they wanted permission to put things off for another year," said Greg Loarie, an attorney with Earthjustice. "At that rate, it's doubtful that the fisher would survive to see the end of the listing process. Fortunately, the Court saw through the Service's excuses and ordered the agency to make its decision within 90 days."
The fisher (Martes pennanti) is a member of the weasel family and a close relative of the marten. In the Pacific coast states, the fisher formerly inhabited old growth forests throughout the Sierra Nevada, northern California, and western Oregon and Washington. However, as a result of logging, trapping and development, the fisher's range has been greatly reduced. Native populations of Pacific fisher have been completely extirpated from Washington and Oregon, and they remain in only 50% of their historical range in California. Of particular concern, U.S. Forest Service researchers have concluded that the southern Sierra fisher population, which is critical to the survival of the entire species, "may face imminent extinction" in the absence of increased protection.