In a settlement agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to reconsider whether West Coast fishers in northern California and southern Oregon warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Fishers are relatives of mink, otters and wolverines, and live in old-growth forests. Under the agreement, the Service has until Aug. 21, 2025, to decide whether to protect them.
“It’s great news that the Fish and Wildlife Service is reconsidering its refusal to protect the elusive Pacific fisher, but waiting more than two decades to provide these protections is indefensible,” said Brian Segee, endangered species legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These fierce, plush-furred forest weasels have few natural predators, but they’re no match for people logging and poisoning their old-growth habitat. Protecting them under the Endangered Species Act is more important now than ever.”
The Center and allies first petitioned the Service to grant West Coast fishers endangered species protection in 2000, leading to a 2004 determination by the agency that the fisher should be listed as threatened throughout its West Coast range. But rather than provide this protection the Service delayed, arguing there was a lack of resources.
The agency annually reaffirmed the fisher’s imperilment for more than a decade until 2016, when it abruptly reversed course and denied protection. After the groups successfully challenged that decision, in 2020 the Service granted protections to fishers in the southern Sierra Nevada but nowhere else. The current lawsuit challenges the denial of protections in the rest of the fisher’s habitat.
“This is our last, best chance to prevent extinction,” said George Sexton of Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “The combination of logging, rodenticides and fires have pushed fishers to the brink.”
West Coast Fishers once roamed forests from British Columbia to Southern California but now their U.S. range is limited to two native populations in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains, plus another in Northern California and southwestern Oregon. There are also small, reintroduced populations in the central Sierra Nevada, in the southern Oregon Cascades, and in the Olympic Peninsula, Mt. Rainier and the North Cascades in Washington state. The Northern California-Southwestern Oregon population — centered in the biodiverse Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains region — is the largest remaining one but is severely threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation caused by logging, high-severity fire and post-fire salvage logging.
“For over 20 years, we have fought for the West Coast fisher and its imperiled ecosystems. Our organizations won’t stop until the species is afforded the full legal protection that it deserves,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center.