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Pacific fisher
Idaho Mountain Express, April 20, 2010

Fishers one step closer to federal protection
FWS will conduct 12-month study of fisher population in the Rockies

By Jason Kauffman

The secretive fisher—a large member of the weasel family that prefers dense, lower elevation forests—is one step closer to federal protection.

This week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the fisher's precarious status in the Rocky Mountains warrants its protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The "may be warranted" decision triggers a more thorough 12-month study of the fisher's status, which could lead to the little-known weasel's listing as threatened or endangered under the ESA.

Last year, four conservation groups—Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Clearwater, Friends of the Bitterroot and the Center for Biological Diversity—petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the fisher. On Thursday, those conservationists expressed excitement with the move.

"We are encouraged that this rare and unique animal will finally get the attention it deserves," said David Gaillard of Defenders of Wildlife, who drafted the petition to protect the population. 

Fishers prefer low- to mid-elevation old-growth forests, where they prey on snowshoe hares and other small mammals and birds. They also have a remarkable ability to successfully hunt porcupines. In fact, timber companies value the secretive species because they can reduce tree damage caused by porcupines. Within the weasel family, only wolverines and river otters are larger than fishers. 

In Idaho, the fisher is more closely associated with the dense forests of north-central Idaho's remote Clearwater region. However, biologists with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game have fielded calls over the years suggesting that a small number of fishers may inhabit the forests in and around the northern Stanley Basin. The high-elevation area isn't considered prime fisher habitat because of its deeper snows, which make travel difficult for the carnivore. 

Copyright 2010 Express Publishing Inc.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton