MISSOULA, Mont.— The Center for Biological Diversity and four other conservation organizations filed a notice of intent today to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to respond to a petition to protect the Northern Rockies fisher under the Endangered Species Act. A relative of the mink and otter, the Northern Rockies fisher once inhabited northeastern Washington, Idaho, Montana, northwest Wyoming and north-central Utah, but has been reduced to just a fraction of its range in the United States to Idaho and Montana. Under the law the Fish and Wildlife Service was required to respond to the September 2013 petition within one year.
“The secretive fisher has been decimated by decades of fur trapping and logging and needs immediate protection under the Endangered Species Act if it’s going to survive,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “These feisty carnivores, the only true predator of the porcupine, need our help sooner rather than later.”
Despite a struggling population, fishers are still legally trapped in Montana, and levels of incidental trapping of fishers in traps set for other animals in Montana and Idaho have increased to alarming numbers in recent years. Twice as many fishers have been incidentally trapped in Idaho since 2008 as were captured from 2002 to 2007. In Idaho reported nontarget catch of fishers by individual fur-takers totaled 46 in the 2010-2011 trapping season, four of which were killed, and 30 in the 2011-2012 trapping season, 18 of which were killed. There has also been a dramatic increase in the number of trapping licenses sold in recent years related to both trapping for wolves and increased demand for bobcat pelts in Asia.
“Fishers in the Clearwater region of Idaho and surrounding areas have native genes which make them unique,” said Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater. “Even though this critter can take on a porcupine, it is not equipped to effectively deal with threats from logging, incidental trapping, and road building.”
Conservation groups originally petitioned for protection for the Northern Rockies fisher in 2009. The Service issued a negative finding on that petition, because at the time trapping levels were lower and less information was available on the specific habitat needs of the species in the northern Rockies. The Service, however, did determine that fishers in the northern Rockies portion of their range are genetically distinct from fisher populations in the East and on the West Coast. Since that time there has been significant new information on the threats to the species, including the increased rate of trapping in Idaho and Montana.
“The fisher faces a variety of threats, both directly from trapping and as a result of human-caused degradation of its habitat in the northern Rockies,” said Travis Bruner, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “Endangered Species Act protection for the fisher is overdue, and listing under the Act would help protect and restore the striking western landscapes that fishers call home. ”
“Fisher in Montana are being decimated by trapping and logging,” said Arlene Montgomery, program director for Friends of the Wild Swan. "While the Fish and Wildlife Service delays protection, the Northern Rockies fisher faces imminent threats to its survival."
Organizations that signed the Notice of Intent include Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Bitterroot, Friends of the Clearwater, Friends of the Wild Swan, and Western Watersheds Project.