In a win for conservation groups, a judge ruled today in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must reconsider the denial of Endangered Species Act protection for Pacific fishers.
The Service proposed federal protection for the fisher in 2014, but then arbitrarily withdrew the proposal in 2016. Groups then filed suit alleging that the denial ignored the science in a politically motivated bow to the timber industry. As the result of today’s ruling, the agency must issue a new decision on the animal’s protection by March 22, 2019.
A relative of minks and otters, Pacific fishers once roamed from British Columbia to Southern California. But due to intense logging and historical trapping, only two naturally occurring populations remain today: a population of 100 to 500 fishers in the southern Sierra Nevada and a population of between 250 and a few thousand fishers in southern Oregon and Northern California.
Now, these small populations of Pacific fishers are threatened by the use of toxic rodenticides by marijuana growers, and increasing fire severity exacerbated by climate change, along with loss of habitat due to logging.
In today’s decision the judge emphasized that the Service downplayed the threat to fishers from rodent poisons in determining that federal protection was not warranted. But in a 2015 study, scientists conducting necropsies on fishers found that 85 percent had been exposed to rodent poison.
Efforts to gain federal protection for the fisher now span decades. The Center for Biological Diversity first petitioned to protect the fisher in 1994, and again in 2000, joined by the three other groups on the lawsuit, the Environmental Protection Information Center, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Sierra Forest Legacy. The groups were represented by Earthjustice.
“We’ve been fighting for Endangered Species Act protection for fishers since ‘Friends’ debuted on television and yet these awesome carnivores still aren’t protected,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Now the judge has given the agency another chance to do the right thing and grant these irreplaceable animals the protection they need to fight off extinction.”
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ignored the best interest of the fisher and bent over backwards to appease the timber industry, but today’s ruling reinforces once more that science, not politics, should determine whether a species deserves protection,” said Tom Wheeler, program director at the Environmental Protection Information Center.
“The Endangered Species Act is our nation’s bedrock environmental law, but sadly the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service routinely sacrifices our most imperiled wildlife to appease industry interests,” said Elizabeth Forsyth, Earthjustice attorney. “Fortunately the court balanced the scales to protect the fisher.”
“This decision shows that politics has no place in listing decisions,” said Susan Britting, executive director of Sierra Forest Legacy. “This rare forest carnivore clearly needs protection. We expect the agency to now uphold their mission to protect wildlife and not buckle to pressure from industry.”
“Protection can’t come soon enough for the fisher because old-growth timber sales continue to whittle away habitat the species needs if it is to recover and thrive,” said George Sexton, conservation director for the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild). The Klamath Mountains should be a key refuge for the fisher, yet the Bureau of Land Management recently committed itself to logging plans that would remove fisher habitat while increasing fire hazard for decades.”