The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit today challenging the California Fish and Game Commission’s decision to deny state Endangered Species Act protection to the Pacific fisher, a rare, forest-dwelling carnivore. The Center is being assisted by lawyers at Earthjustice.
A close relative of the wolverine and mink, the fisher once thrived in old-growth forests along the West Coast. Today, because of logging, trapping and development among other factors, fishers are almost extinct in Washington and Oregon, and just two small populations remain in California: one in the Klamath Region and another in the southern Sierra Nevada. These isolated populations are at substantial risk from logging, habitat fragmentation, disease, traffic and development.
“Scientists have been very clear that the Pacific fisher is in trouble and yet the Fish and Game Commission ignored that information and refused to throw it a lifeline,” said Justin Augustine, a Center attorney. “Now we’re going to court to get the protections that fishers need and deserve.”
The Center petitioned the Commission in January 2008 to list the fisher as a threatened or endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act. The Commission initially tried to reject the petition without conducting a full scientific review. Only after the Center exposed correspondence showing that many of the Department of Fish and Game’s own scientists believed fishers may be at risk of extinction did the Commission reverse course and direct the Department to conduct a full review. At the conclusion of that review, Department managers again ignored their own scientists, as well as peer reviewers, and significantly altered a draft of the status review to downplay threats to the fisher.
The Department’s official, final review of the fisher’s status in California was heavily criticized by independent biologists. Only the timber industry supported the Department’s decision to recommend against state protection. The Commission denied the petition September 15.
“The fact is that there are probably fewer than 150 breeding female fishers left in the entire Sierra Nevada,” said Greg Loarie, an attorney at Earthjustice. “If ever there were an animal that desperately needs protection, this is it.”