Cat-sized, furry carnivores called fishers were once common throughout the forests of the West Coast.
About two months after several of the critters — which are related to weasels — were relocated from Alberta, Canada, to the North Cascades for the first time, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reopened a proposal to give the fisher protections under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The Fish & Wildlife Service announced the start of a public comment period Thursday to relaunch an effort to determine whether the Pacific fisher found in Washington, Oregon and California should be listed as a threatened species.
Fish & Wildlife Service spokeswoman Susan Sawyer said the listing was originally proposed in 2014. However, the federal agency withdrew the proposal on April 18, 2016, after concluding the threats to the fisher were not “of sufficient imminence, intensity, or magnitude to indicate that they were singly or cumulatively resulting in significant impacts at either the population or rangewide scales,” she said.
In October 2016, the Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Protection Information Center, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, and Sierra Forest Legacy filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in California regarding the Fish & Wildlife Service’s decision.
The conservation groups argued that the agency’s withdrawal violated the Endangered Species Act and asked the court to require the Fish & Wildlife Service to complete the review process for the potential listing.
On Sept. 21, 2018, U.S. District Court Judge William Aslup agreed with the plaintiffs, filing an order requiring the Fish & Wildlife Service to complete the process.
In a news release following the decision, The Center for Biological Diversity called Aslup’s ruling a conservation win and said it estimates fewer than 800 native fishers remain in parts of the species’ West Coast range, concentrated in Southern Oregon, Northern California and the Sierra Nevada.
The Fish & Wildlife Service is now required to decide whether to list the fisher by March 21, 2020, according to court records.
To relaunch the potential listing of the species, the Fish & Wildlife Service has opened a 30-day public comment period that ends March 4.
The federal agency is seeking a variety of updated information about the region’s fisher populations, conservation efforts and threats to the species, including wildfire risks and the use of rat poisons on marijuana farms.
North Cascades National Park Service Complex wildlife biologist Jason Ransom, one of the leading organizers for bringing fishers back to Washington, said he fears a federal listing would interfere with the ongoing release efforts.
“We believe listing them in Washington is not warranted because we’re already doing everything we can do to recover them and actually listing them might slow recovery,” he said.
The effort to restore fishers to Washington began in the Olympics in 2008 and has since included releases in the Mount Rainier and North Cascades areas.
Eighteen fishers have now been released in the North Cascades and another six are planned to be released next week, Ransom said.
Fishers, which are protected at the state level as an endangered species, are an important part of the state’s forests.
“Fishers contribute to a healthy ecosystem, they are not a threat to timber ... and several of the timber companies have signed on to conservation agreements,” Ransom said.
Comments to help inform the potential listing of the Pacific fisher can be submitted online or by mail.
Online: Go to regulations.gov and search for docket number FWS-R8-ES-2018-0105. Click the “Comment now!” button to locate the comment form.
Mail: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. FWS-R8-ES-2018-0105; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.