For Immediate Release, March 5, 2009
Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495
Pacific Fisher One Step Closer to Protection Under
California Endangered Species Act
SACRAMENTO, Calif.— In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, and in a stark departure from an August 2008 decision, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to designate the Pacific fisher, a rare forest carnivore that is one of the few species that preys on porcupines, a candidate for protection as a threatened or endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act and initiated a review of the species to determine if full protection is warranted.
“The Pacific fisher has been devastated by a combination of historic fur trapping and logging of its old-growth forest habitats,” said Noah Greenwald, biodiversity program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Without protection from continued logging on private and federal lands, the fisher will go extinct.”
The fisher once roamed from British Columbia to the southern Sierra. It was extirpated from Washington and most of Oregon. In California, the fisher is reduced to half of its historic range in two small populations — one in the southern Sierra Nevada and one in northwestern California. Both populations are threatened by continued logging.
“Protection of the fisher’s forest habitat is needed to ensure that this beautiful animal once again thrives throughout the Sierra Nevada and Northern California,” said Greenwald.
In August 2008, the Commission followed a recommendation by the Department of Fish and Game to reject the petition. After a public-records act request from the Center revealed that most of the Department’s own biologists had in fact supported accepting the petition, and a decision to reject a petition to protect the California tiger salamander was overturned in state court, the Commission decided to reconsider its decision, resulting in the vote to advance the fisher to candidacy.
“We’re delighted the Commission has seen the light and changed its decision to deny the fisher protection,” said Greenwald.
The fisher is also a candidate for federal protection. In 2000, the Center submitted a petition to list the Pacific fisher as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act. In 2004, the Bush administration determined that the Pacific fisher warranted protection, but that such protection was precluded by lack of resources; instead of protecting the fisher the administration placed it on the federal candidate list, along with 250 other species. With the change in administration, however, it is likely that the fisher will see federal protection in the next few years.
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. Rather than 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 United States, 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.