Conservation groups support protected status
Conservation groups intend to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) over its decision to deny federal protection to fishers in most areas of the West Coast, including Washington, where fishers are listed as endangered by the state.
The groups filed a formal notice on June 2 of their intent to challenge FWS’s decision last year to reverse its previous determination that West Coast fishers should be protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
Fishers, a house cat-sized mammal related to minks, otters and wolverines, once roamed forests from British Columbia to Southern California, but were virtually eliminated by the mid-1900s due to trapping and habitat loss. Conservationists say fishers throughout the West Coast range continue to face threats from logging, wildfires related to climate change, and the use of toxic rodenticides by marijuana growers.
“The Trump administration’s denial of protection to West Coast fishers disregarded the Service’s own findings and completely ignores key science on these amazing and elusive carnivores,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“If the fisher’s going to survive and recover in this warming world, it needs Endangered Species Act protection now,” Greenwald said. The Center for Biological Diversity is joined by the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) in the planned lawsuit.
After conservation groups petitioned for endangered species protection for West Cost fishers in 2000, FWS determined in 2004 that protection under the Endangered Species Act should be granted. The agency delayed action however, arguing that protection for fishers was precluded by listings of other species, according to the conservation groups.
The wildlife agency reaffirmed the fisher’s imperiled status in annual reviews through 2016, when it reversed course and denied protection. After conservation groups successfully challenged that decision, FWS granted protections in 2020 to fishers only in the southern Sierra Nevada mountain range, and nowhere else on the West Coast.
Forced to sue
“The fisher has had to endure 20 years of political games, as the (Fish and Wildlife) Service has repeatedly violated the law to placate the timber industry,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director of EPIC. “It is sad that we are forced, once again, to go to court because the Service refuses to abide by its mandate.”
“The combination of widespread poisonings and extensive loss of habitat have fishers at death’s door,” said George Sexton, conservation director for the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “We refuse to see this iconic species disappear forever on our watch.”
Fishers have been listed as an endangered species by Washington State since 1998. A program to rebuild the fisher population in Washington has been underway since 2008. Conservation groups, state, federal, tribal and Canadian entities have collaborated to capture fishers in Canada and release them into mountains of the North Cascades, the Olympic Peninsula and near Mt. Rainer in the southern Cascades.
More than 250 fishers have been released in Washington through the program. The species is now established and successfully reproducing in the Olympics and Southern Cascades, and just a few weeks ago a trail camera took photos of a female fisher with four babies near Darrington, indicating fishers may be regaining a foothold in the North Cascades as well.
The female fisher caught on camera was one of 89 fishers released in the North Cascades between 2018 and 2020. Since reintroduction, fishers have been detected within and around the North Cascades National Park Service Complex, throughout the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, in parts of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, and on private lands as far east as Winthrop.
Re-establishing viable populations of fishers in the Olympic and Cascade Mountains are steps toward removing fishers from the state’s endangered species list. The recovery plan for fisher reintroduction is on the WDFW website.
Fishers prey on small mammals — including mountain beavers, squirrels and snowshoe hares — and are among the few predators of porcupines. They thrive in older forests, like those on the Olympic Peninsula and west slopes of the Cascades.