SAVING THE FISHER
Despite its name, the fisher doesn't eat fish or live by the ocean. This shy, plush-furred member of the weasel family inhabits mature forests and munches on everything from birds to small mammals to fruit. In fact, the fisher is the only animal tough and clever enough to prey regularly on porcupines — no easy feat. But due to historical trapping, logging and development in the West Coast's mature and old-growth forests, the Pacific fisher (the fisher's West Coast population) is now in danger of extinction. And although this secretive predator once ranged through five states, habitat loss and trapping has limited the fisher's Northern Rockies population to the border of northern Idaho and Montana.
Although Pacific fisher trapping was outlawed in the 1940s, logging and development have decimated the large blocks of forest the species needs to thrive. To help save the Pacific fisher from extinction, in 2000 the Center and 17 other environmental groups petitioned to list the animal as federally endangered. It took four years for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide that listing was “warranted but precluded.” The Service then put the Pacific fisher on the candidate list to await protection indefinitely — so in 2010 the Center and allies filed suit against the Service for neglecting the species.
In 2011 the Center reached a settlement with the Service to move forward on protection decisions for the Pacific fisher and 756 other government-neglected plants and animals. Under our agreement, the fisher's U.S. listing proposal was due in 2014. When the Service failed to meet that deadline, we filed a notice of intent to sue. Sadly, after another petition and lawsuit, in 2016 the Service denied protections to West Coat fishers in a bow to the timber industry. To make matters worse, the U.S. Forest Service issued a decision approving more than 1,000 acres of post-fire logging in a roadless area in the Sierra National Forest occupied by fishers. So in June 2016 the Center and allies filed a notice of intent to sue over the denial of protections for fishers.
Unfortunately, in 2020 the Service again denied them protection, reversing previous determinations that West Coast fishers, from northern Washington to the southern Sierra, deserved protection as threatened. So we filed yet another notice of intent to sue in 2021.
Because the Pacific fisher needs protection on every level, we're also working in California to secure state-level protection. After making Pacific fishers a candidate for protection in response to a 2008 Center petition, in 2010 the state announced it wouldn't place the imperiled mammal on its own endangered species list. So we sued California, and in 2012 a California Superior Court ordered the Fish and Game Commission to reconsider its decision to deny state Endangered Species Act protection to Pacific fishers. In response to our petition and lawsuit, in 2015 the California Department of Fish and Wildlife recommended state Endangered Species Act protection for the fisher in the southern Sierra Nevada portion of its range.
Meanwhile, a few states away, the Northern Rockies fisher has been struggling without protection despite facing the same threats as its West Coast cousin, and despite the Center petitioning back in 2009 — and again, with allies, in 2013. Finally, after the Center sued to speed protection in March 2016, later that year we won a settlement with the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the next January, the agengy announced its consideration of federal protection for Northern Rockies fishers.