Fisher to be considered for endangered species status

July 10, 2003


SACRAMENTO -- The Pacific fisher will be considered for endangered species protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday after completing a 90-day review ordered by a federal judge.

The service will now take a year to further review whether the species that once lived in California, Oregon and Washington should be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The weasel-like fisher once lived in ancient forests from the Sierra Nevada north through western Oregon and Washington. But trapping and habitat loss killed off much of the Washington and Oregon populations, and only half its California habitat remains, environmental groups said in petitioning for protection of the species.

The service said recent studies have found three fisher populations: one in the Siskiyou, Klamath, and Trinity ranges in northwestern California and southern Oregon, another in the southern Sierra Nevada, and a reintroduced population in the Cascades in southern Oregon. The fisher is extinct or reduced to scattered individuals in Washington, the service said.

U.S. Forest Service researchers determined that the southern Sierra Nevada population, which is critical to the survival of the entire species, "may face imminent extinction" if something isn't done.

Environmental groups said the Forest Service's plans for more logging in Giant Sequoia National Monument and across 11.5 million acres of Sierra Nevada national forest will further decrease the fisher's habitat.

"Without immediate protection from continued logging on private and federal lands, the fisher will go extinct," said Noah Greenwald, a conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. His was one of 20 organizations and individuals that joined in the petition seeking protection for the fisher.

The Fish and Wildlife Service missed its legal deadline for considering the mink-like carnivore's status by more than two years, U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti ruled in April.

He rejected the service's request for an additional year's delay despite its plea that Congress didn't give it enough money to review all the endangered species' petitions and lawsuits filed by environmental groups. Though the service has now met the new 90-day deadline set by Conti, he noted the service is instantly in violation of a second deadline in federal law by more than a year.

If the service finds the fisher should be listed, it would have to set up rules to protect the species and its habitat. However, the service has frequently found that listings are warranted but precluded for protection because the service has higher priorities for protection under its financial, time and staffing constraints.


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