Conservation Groups will Sue to Protect Pacific Fisher

Bush administration plays politics while old-growth dependent species heads for extinction


Greg Loarie, Earthjustice, 510-550-6725


Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, 503-484-7495


Dr. Steve Buskirk, University of Wyoming, 307-766-5626

The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, Environmental Protection Information Center, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Oregon Natural Resources Council filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue today against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for delaying protection of the Pacific fisher, a rare relative of the otter and mink and denizen of old-growth forests. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the fisher warranted protection as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on April 8, 2004, but refused to finalize such protection. "The Bush Administration’s further delay of protection for the fisher is driving it to extinction," states Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "The fisher needs the safety net provided by the Endangered Species Act to survive."

The fisher formerly ranged throughout old-growth forests of Washington, Oregon, northwestern California and the Sierra Nevada. Because of a combination of logging 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 disjunct populations — one in northwestern California and extreme southwestern Oregon, and another in the southern Sierra Nevada. "The well-documented reduction in the distribution and abundance of the fisher is of serious concern," states Dr. Steve Buskirk, Professor of Zoology and fisher expert at the University of Wyoming. "Fisher can and should be restored to their historical distribution on the West Coast."

At the same time that 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 in the Northwest Forest Plan. "The Bush Administration will stop at nothing to please their friends and campaign contributors in the timber industry," states Greenwald, "the fisher needs protection of old-growth forests to survive."

The Bush Administration has protected the fewest species of any Administration since passage of the Endangered Species Act. To date, they have only protected 31 species. By comparison, the Clinton Administration protected 394 species during its first term and the first Bush Administration protected 234 species. The Bush Administration claims they don’t have enough money to list species needing protection. A review of their annual budget requests, however, reveals that year after year the Administration requests only a fraction of the money that Fish and Wildlife says it need to properly implement the Endangered Species Act. For instance, this year it has requested only $17.3 million of the $153 million that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates they need to address the backlog of endangered species listings and critical habitat designations. "The Bush Administration is manufacturing a budget crisis to cover up their opposition to endangered species protection and poor implementation of the Nation’s most important environmental law," states Greg Loarie, an attorney with Earthjustice, who is representing the groups.


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 only reach 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.

Endangered status for the fisher would have required 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.

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