A California Superior court has affirmed protected status for Pacific fishers under the Endangered Species Act. The court overturned the Department of Fish and Game’s ill-informed 2010 decision not to extend protection to this rare, forest-dwelling animal.
A close relative of the mink, otter, and wolverine, the Pacific fisher (Martes pennanti) once roamed the old-growth forests of the West Coast from Washington state to the Sierra Nevada. As with many other predatory species, however, fisher populations have declined dramatically in recent decades due to trapping, logging, farming, and fire. Survey information indicates that the fisher is likely extirpated from all of Washington, most of Oregon, and at least half of its range in the Sierra Nevada.
Pacific Fisher, Martes pennanti. (John Jacobsen / U.S. FWS)
The California population has been divided into two remnant populations, one in the northwestern part of the state and another small group in the southern Sierra Nevada believed to contain fewer than 500 individuals.
Earthjustice's efforts to protect the fisher began almost a decade ago when we brought suit on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and other organizations challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's failure to respond to a petition to list the species under the federal Endangered Species Act.
In April 2003, the court agreed with Earthjustice's position and ordered the Service to make a determination under the law. A year later, the Service announced that listing the Pacific fisher under the Act was "warranted, but precluded" by higher priority listing actions. As a result, the fisher joined some 250 other "candidate" species in bureaucratic limbo. Six years later, however, the Service has made little progress in listing candidate species such as the fisher. The current suit will hopefully bring the species the legal protection it deserves before the fisher population declines any further.