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Groups sue feds over Pacific fishers

Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, others sue U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over 2020 decision to not grant endangered status to mammals here
Forest Service biologist Dave Clayton prepares to release a Pacific fisher that was trapped in the Ashland Watershed. A coalition of conservation groups sued the federal government Tuesday over its decision not to grant federal endangered species status to the region’s Pacific fishers. [Mail Tribune / file photo]

ASHLAND — Conservation groups sued the federal government Tuesday to reverse its decision not to grant federal endangered species status to the region’s Pacific fisher, a rare forest carnivore whose range includes the Ashland Watershed.

The Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center joined others in suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the agency’s 2020 decision to protect just fishers isolated in the southern Sierra Mountains near Yosemite National Park.

In doing so, the service ignored the West Coast population that straddles the southwest Oregon/Northern California border, putting the fishers in peril, the groups claim.

At that time, the service’s decision rebuffed recommendations from its field biologists, instead saying the West Coast’s fisher population is balanced enough survive without the ESA protections.

George Sexton, KS Wild’s conservation director, called that decision purely political and that it came when fishers here face increasing threats, not diminishing ones.

“It’s a lethal cocktail out there, if you’re a Pacific fisher,” Sexton said. “There’s a lot of ways to bite the dust.”

While historical trapping and loss of old-growth habitat has harmed the fisher’s recovery, threats such as rodenticide used by illegal marijuana grows on federal lands add a growing threat, Sexton said.

The rodents killed by rat poison get eaten by fishers, which in turn suffer from poisoning at high rates, federal studies show.

“You can’t do a conservation agreement with cartels,” Sexton said.

The suit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by the Center for Biological Diversity. It is joined by KS Wild and the Environmental Protection Information Center based in Arcata, California.

A service spokesperson did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

About the size of large house cats, fishers belong to a family of mammals that includes weasels, mink, martens and otters.

Fishers live in low- to mid-elevation forests and require cavities in trees for rearing their young, as well as forest canopies to rest and hide from predators.

They once roamed forests from British Columbia to Southern California. The fisher’s range was reduced dramatically in the 1800s and early 1900s through trapping, predator and pest control, and changes in forest habitats from logging, fire, urbanization and farming, according to the past Fish and Wildlife Service decisions.

The Siskiyou Mountains population of Pacific fishers is native, while another in the south Cascades is from fishers introduced by private timber owners to prey on porcupines, which damage young trees.

Fishers are the only animals known to prey regularly on porcupines.

In its 2020 decision not to list coastal fishers, the service argued that the Sierra population of a few hundred fishers was genetically different and separated by a 130-mile geographic gap from the Southern Oregon population that is up to a few thousand.

The service stated that conservation agreements protecting fishers in Southern Oregon and Northern California, as well as its wider presence within its habitat, diversity of ages and breeding success “enable this population to maintain balance and withstand setbacks.

Agency biologists in 2019 recommended both groups be listed as a single threatened species, saying fishers were in peril from a combination of logging, climate change, wildfires and rodenticide poisoning from sources that included illegal marijuana grows.

Agency biologists previously recommended listing both groups of fishers as threatened in 2004, but the Fish and Wildlife Service never finalized a listing. Agency biologists again proposed federal protection in 2014, but that proposal was withdrawn two years later.

“This has been a long-term effort for us, and it’s not something we’re going to give up on,” Sexton said.

Mark Freeman reports on the environment for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4470 or by email at mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com.