A coalition of conservation groups filed a lawsuit today asserting that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is illegally delaying Endangered Species Act protection for the Pacific fisher, a relative of the mink and otter that has been decimated by historic fur trapping and logging of old-growth forests. The groups filing the lawsuit are the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Forest Legacy, Environmental Protection Information Center, and Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, represented in court by the law firm Earthjustice.
In response to a 2000 petition from the groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged in 2004 that the fisher warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act but claimed such protection was precluded by listing of other species considered a higher priority. Hundreds of species have been caught in the purgatory of this "warranted but precluded" designation.
"The fisher and hundreds of other species have been waiting too long for protection," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Continued delay of protection for the fisher puts the survival of this unique animal in jeopardy."
Species designated as warranted but precluded are placed on a list of species considered candidates for listing, which currently includes 252 species. On average, these species have been waiting 20 years for protection. Candidate designation does not provide any protection. Both the Bush and Obama administration cited lack of resources as the basis for continuing to delay protection for these species. Contrary to this claim, the budget for listing species has gone up by nearly two hundred percent since 2002. To date, the Obama administration has only protected two species under the Endangered Species Act. By comparison, the Clinton administration protected an average of 65 species per year and a total of 522 species.
"Secretary Salazar is not prioritizing protection of endangered species," said Greenwald. "With threats from habitat loss, pollution, invasive species, and climate change all on the rise, we can't afford to neglect the nation's wildlife."
"This rare predator is a treasure of our western wildlands," said George Torgun of Earthjustice. "The Pacific fisher deserves protection now while there is still time to restore its population."
The fisher once roamed from British Columbia to the southern Sierra. Today, it has been reduced to three native populations found in the southern Sierra Nevada, northern California and southwestern Oregon, and thanks to a reintroduction effort, Washington's Olympic National Park. These populations continue to be threatened by logging.
"The Pacific fisher has been devastated by a combination of historic fur trapping and logging of its old-growth forest habitats," said Craig Thomas, executive director of Sierra Forest Legacy. "Without protection from continued logging on private and federal lands, the fisher will go extinct."
"Two things are quite clear at this point for the fisher," said Scott Greacen, executive director of EPIC. "One, science has shown that current protections for fisher habitat on both industrial timberlands and national forests in California are clearly inadequate. Two, the timber industry, especially Sierra Pacific Industries, is doing everything in its power to prevent or delay any further protections for the species."
A close relative of the mink and otter, the fisher (Martes pennanti) is a shy predator with a diverse diet that includes porcupines and other small forest animals, carrion, vegetation, fungi, and fruit. The Pacific fisher's historic distribution on the West Coast included all of western Washington and Oregon, northwestern California, and the Sierra Nevada, but is now much reduced.
The fisher has a long, slender body with short legs. Its head is triangular, with a sharp, pronounced muzzle and large, rounded ears. Fishers are mostly brown, with a long, bushy tail. Males range up to 47 inches in length, while females typically only reach 37 inches. Fishers run in a bounding gait, with their front feet leaping forward together, followed by the back feet.
Because fishers are the only animal that regularly prey on porcupines, which often kill or damage small trees, the timber industry reintroduced the fisher to many parts of the United States, including the southern Cascades of Oregon. The fisher kills porcupines with repeated bites to the face, devouring the porcupine via the quill-less underbelly. Where fisher reintroductions have been successful, porcupines have indeed declined in number.
George Torgun, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6700
Craig Thomas, Sierra Forest Legacy, (530) 622-8718
Scott Greacen, EPIC, (707) 822-7711
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
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