Environmental news from California and beyond

« Previous Post | Greenspace Home | Next Post »

Lawsuit seeks state protection for the Pacific fisher

November 10, 2010 | 11:54 am

Fisher An environmental group has filed a lawsuit accusing California wildlife authorities of failing to protect the remaining populations of Pacific fishers in Northwestern California and the southern Sierra Nevada range.

Filed in San Francisco County Superior Court, the suit seeks to force the California Fish and Game Commission to set aside its June decision that listing the second-largest member of the weasel family as an endangered species is not warranted.

Of particular concern is the fate of the southern Sierra population south of Yosemite National Park, which has been reduced to as few as 160 animals, about 55 of them females, according to the lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity.

A fisher population that small and isolated is at risk of extirpation from an event such as a wildfire or drought, the lawsuit said.

Strongly associated with old-growth forests, fishers are mostly dark brown and have long, slender bodies with short legs and long bushy tails. They have triangular heads with sharp pronounced muzzles and large rounded ears. Their face, neck and shoulders are silver or light brown, contrasting with glossy black tails and legs.

Their range has been severely reduced over the last century by trapping, logging and urban and rural development.

In 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the West Coast's remaining fishers warranted listing under the federal Endangered Species Act, but that immediate listing is precluded by other priorities.

In June, the state Fish and Game Commission disagreed, concluding instead that Martes pennanti was faring better because of recent changes in management of forests on public and private lands, and laws prohibiting the trapping and poisoning of fishers and their prey.

The lawsuit alleges that the commission's conclusion was not based on the best scientific information available.

"Scientists have been very clear that the Pacific fisher is in trouble and yet the Fish and Game Commission ignored that information and refused to throw it a lifeline," said Justin Augustine, a center attorney. "Now we're going to court to get protections that fishers need and deserve."

-- Louis Sahagun

 Photo: Pacific Fisher. Credit: John Jacobson/courtesy of National Park Service