Rare animal finds a friend in court
March 21, 2013
• Ruling affirms protection for Pacific fishers
• “Hopefully marks a turning point for fisher conservation”
A California Superior Court has ruled that Pacific fishers, a rare, forest-dwelling member of the weasel family are protected as candidate species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).
That means that fishers are protected from logging and other activities that threaten their well being while the California Fish and Game Commission decides whether to protect fishers permanently as threatened or endangered.
The ruling comes in a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity.
A close relative of the wolverine and mink, the fisher once thrived in old-growth forests along the West Coast. Today, fishers are almost extinct in Washington and Oregon and only two small populations remain in California: one in northwestern California and another in the southern Sierra Nevada.
“This decision hopefully marks a turning point for fisher conservation in California,” says Justin Augustine, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney. “We are optimistic that the protections fishers now receive will be supported by the Department as they redo their review of the species’ status and comply with the court’s order to rely on the best available science.”
The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the Commission in January 2008 to list the fisher as threatened or endangered under the California Endangered Species Act. The Commission’s acceptance of the Center’s petition triggered a 12-month review by the Department of Fish and Game of the overall status of fishers in California.
But, says Earthjustice, at the conclusion of that review, Department managers significantly altered a draft status report to downplay threats to the fisher identified by its own staff scientists.
The Department’s final recommendation not to protect fishers in California was heavily criticized by independent biologists. Only the timber industry supported the Department’s decision to recommend against state protection. The Commission denied the petition on September 15, 2010, prompting the Center’s lawsuit seeking reversal of the denial.