A California Superior Court has ordered the California Fish and Game Commission to reconsider its decision to deny state Endangered Species Act protection to the Pacific fisher, a rare, forest-dwelling carnivore. The ruling comes in a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity.
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 northwestern California and another in the southern Sierra Nevada. These isolated populations are at substantial risk from logging, habitat fragmentation, disease, rodenticides, traffic and development.
“The science is 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 hope we’ll 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 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 on September 15, 2010, which led to the conservationist lawsuit.
Judge Harold Kahn of the San Francisco Superior Court issued the ruling last Friday, ordering the Department to “solicit independent and competent peer review” in determining the fisher’s status.
“The fact is that there are probably fewer than 150 adult female fishers left in the entire Sierra Nevada,” said Erin Tobin, an attorney at Earthjustice. “If ever there were an animal that desperately needs protection, this is it.”