Saying the cat-sized mammal is already the object of more conservation measures, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is not adding the West Coast fisher to the endangered list.
“We arrived at our decision following a comprehensive evaluation of the science and after a thorough review of public input,” Ren Lohoefener, director of the FWS Pacific Southwest Region, said in a statement released Thursday. “The best available science shows current threats are not causing significant declines to the West Coast populations of fisher and that listing is not necessary at this time to guarantee survival.”
Several conservation organizations disagreed with the decision, saying political motivations eclipsed science in the evaluation process. According to Ben Solvesky, an ecologist with Sierra Forest Legacy:
“If we are going to save the fisher for future generations then it needs range-wide protection. It is incredibly disappointing that after decades of waiting and a mountain of scientific information supporting the need to list, the agency yet again let politics trump science.”
Logging, trapping and pest control took toll on West Coast fisher
About the size of large house cats, fishers belong to a family of mammals that includes weasels, mink, martens and otters. Fishers, which live in low- to mid-elevation forests, require cavities in trees for rearing their young, resting and hiding from predators.
In the 1800s and early 1900s, the animal’s range was reduced dramatically through trapping, predator and pest control, and changes in habitat by logging, fire, urbanization and farming. The species is now found in the northern forests of the United States and Canada, as well as the Appalachian Mountains and Rockies and the Pacific Coast Mountains of California, Oregon and Washington.
In October 2014, FWS proposed listing the West Coast fisher as threatened under the Endangered Species Act based on potential threats to its habitat from wildfire, some timber harvest practices and indiscriminate and illegal use of pesticides to protect illicit marijuana plantations from rat infestations.
FWS determined that the threats were later found to be not as significant as previously thought. The agency said that while the animal faces various levels of stressors, they are not causing significant impacts or declines to the population.
“There has been a substantial increase in support and interest by federal, state, tribal, and private stakeholders in implementing voluntary and proactive fisher conservation measures,” said Robyn Thorson, director for the FWS Pacific Region. “It is clearly resulting in a much improved long term conservation outlook for fisher.”
However, the Sierra Forest Legacy said there’s evidence of only two naturally occurring populations remaining: a group of 300 fishers in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and a population ranging from 250 to a few thousand in southern Oregon and Northern California. The fishers also have three other populations that have been reintroduced.
Weyerhaeuser announces effort to protect West Coast fisher
Meanwhile, Weyerhaeuser Company said it plans to commit up to 3 million acres of private timberland in Washington and Oregon to support a variety of conservation efforts focused on reintroducing the fisher throughout the West.
“Weyerhaeuser’s working forests are perfect partners for wildlife conservation efforts because they are continually managed,” said Rhonda Hunter, Weyerhaeuser’s senior vice president for timberlands. “Private timberlands held by companies like Weyerhaeuser are attractive habitats for animals, like the Fisher.”
Weyerhaeuser said it will work with state agencies in Washington and Oregon to support the species’ introduction in both states by monitoring fishers and their dens. In the event that a den site is found on its property, the company will limit harvesting, trapping, or other activities that may harm or disturb fishers or their young within a quarter mile of active dens; and provide voluntary financial or other in-kind contributions to support the fisher’s reintroduction to its natural habitat.