The Bush administration announced today that the Pacific fisher, a rare relative of the otter and mink and denizen of old-growth forests, warrants protection as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, but is precluded by other higher priority listing actions. The finding was issued in response to a petition filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign.
The ESA allows the administration to delay listing a species by declaring it "warranted but precluded" if it can demonstrate other species are more in need of protection and hence a higher priority for listing, and that they are making expeditious progress towards listing these other species. Neither applies in the case of the fisher.
"The Bush administration's further delay of protection for the fisher is illegal," said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "We intend to fight the decision in court."
The administration is allowed to declare a species warranted but precluded if and only if it can demonstrate it is making expeditious progress towards listing other species. The Bush administration, however, has the poorest listing record of any administration since the ESA was passed. To date, the administration has listed only 29 species. By comparison, the Clinton administration listed 394 species during its first term. The Bush administration is the only presidency in the history of the ESA not to have listed a single species except in response to petitions and/or lawsuits by scientists and environmental groups. The Bush administration is also the first presidency to deny listing for more species (36) than it has listed. Clearly, the administration is not making expeditious progress toward listing species.
At the same time the administration is dragging its feet on protecting the fisher, it has substantially weakened protections for its late-sucessional forest habitats. In the Sierra Nevada, the administration gutted the Sierra Nevada Framework, a plan that was in part designed to protect the fisher, and in the Northwest, the administration weakened protections for old-growth forests through rule changes that removed the Survey and Manage Program and weakened the Aquatic Conservation Strategy of the Northwest Forest Plan.
"The Bush administration will stop at nothing to please its friends and campaign contributors in the timber industry," said Craig Thomas, executive director of the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, "even if it means driving species to extinction and allowing further degradation of west coast forests."
Because of a combination of logging of old-growth forests and historic fur-trapping, the fisher has been extirpated from all of Washington, most of Oregon, and half its range in California. It is now found in two populations, one in northwestern California and extreme southwestern Oregon, and another in the southern Sierra Nevada. Endangered status for the fisher would require protection for old-growth forests, benefiting the entire ecosystem. It would have provided funding for research and boosted efforts to reintroduce the fisher into Oregon and Washington.
Greg Loarie, an attorney with Earthjustice who represented the groups on the suit to force Fish and Wildlife Service's decision today, said, "Californians are right to be concerned when the Bush administration ignores science showing fishers need protection now. At the same time the Bush administration is rewriting the rules to triple clearcutting in forests where the fisher lives."
Fisher description and natural history
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 reach only 37 inches. Fishers run in a bounding gait, with their front feet leaping forward together, followed by the back feet. Unlike other carnivores, such as cats and dogs, fishers walk on their whole foot.
Contrary to its name, the fisher does not eat fish. The name probably relates to a poor translation of the name for the European polecat, which is a relative of the fisher and is called the fitch ferret, fichet or fitche. Instead of fish, the fisher has a diverse diet, preying on small mammals, snowshoe hare, porcupine, birds, carrion, fruit, and truffles. Because it is the only animal that regularly preys on porcupines, which often kill or damage small trees, the timber industry reintroduced the fisher to many parts of the U.S., 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.
The Petition to list the Fisher
The petition to list the fisher was filed by a coalition of 17 groups on November 28, 2000. According to the ESA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to determine whether a species warrants listing within twelve months of receiving a petition. Today's finding is thus nearly two and a half years late and comes only after the groups, represented by Earthjustice, obtained a court order forcing the agency to make a decision.
The groups on the original petition included: Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, American Lands Alliance, Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, Environmental Protection Information Center, Forest Interest Group, Friends of the Kalmiopsis, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Plumas Forest Project, Predator Conservation Alliance, Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, Siskiyou Project, Siskiyou Action Project, and Yosemite Area Audubon.