Judge: Pacific fisher must be reconsidered for protection

Ruling Monday means reconsideration of Endangered Species status

On Monday, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must reconsider the denial of Endangered Species Act protection for Pacific fishers. Environmental groups are calling that a win. ()U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
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A ruling Monday determined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must reconsider the denial of Endangered Species Act protection for Pacific fishers.

Environmental groups are calling the ruling by a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California a win.

“We’ve been fighting for Endangered Species Act protection for fishers since ‘Friends’ debuted on television and yet these awesome carnivores still aren’t protected,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “Now the judge has given the agency another chance to do the right thing and grant these irreplaceable animals the protection they need to fight off extinction.”

The Pacific Fisher is a relative of minks and otters, which once “roamed from British Columbia to Southern California,” according to a news release from Arcata-based Environmental Protection Information Center. As a result of logging and historical trapping, EPIC stated, “only two naturally occurring populations remain today: a population of 100 to 500 fishers in the southern Sierra Nevada and a population of between 250 and a few thousand fishers in southern Oregon and Northern California.”

The main threats to the health of the Pacific Fisher are “fire severity exacerbated by climate change, along with loss of habitat due to logging,” and toxic rodenticides used by illegal cannabis cultivators.

Rob DiPerna, California forest and wildlife advocate at EPIC, said the judge presiding over the case, “determined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service underplayed, discounted and ignored the threat posed to Pacific Fishers from rodenticides.”

“The analytics and evidence don’t support the findings (of U.S. Fish and Wildlife),” he said.

DiPerna said the Pacific fishers live in small disconnected and isolated groups, meaning they’re not able to interconnect, interbreed and disperse. EPIC believes these factors amount to a serious threat, said DiPerna.

“One wildfire in the wrong place could cost us the hope of recovering the species,” he said.

The recent ruling has DiPerna feeling gratified.

“We feel that the court got it right. We feel vindicated,” he said. “Fish and Wildlife got it wrong, the Pacific fisher warrants protection and a chance at recovery.”

EPIC’s executive director maintains the previous ruling was catering to the timber industry.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ignored the best interest of the fisher and bent over backwards to appease the timber industry, but (Monday’s) ruling reinforces once more that science, not politics, should determine whether a species deserves protection,” Tom Wheeler said in a statement.

DiPerna said that, sometimes, that is how things shake out.

“These things happen, we know they do,” he said. “Administrative decisions are sometimes influenced by money and politics.”

But some in the timber industry stood behind the initial ruling.

“Green Diamond, in cooperation with other landowners and state and federal agencies, has been studying the fisher for over 20 years,” said Green Diamond’s Gary Rynearson in am email, noting Green Diamond agrees with U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s original decision not to list the Pacific Fisher.

Rynearson also said Green Diamond is currently “seeking review and approval of a federal “forest habitat conservation plan”‘ that would include management and protection standards for both the northern spotted owl and the Pacific Fisher for the next 50 years.  Attempts to reach the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, as well as Humboldt Redwood Company were unsuccessful.

Despite Green Diamond’s plans, DiPerna contends that listing the Pacific Fisher under the Endangered Species Act is a must. “We want to see it recover enough to eventually be off the list,” he said. “But without listing it, none of the other activities necessary for the Pacific Fisher’s recovery will happen.”

Philip Santos can be reached at 707-441-0506.

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