VICTOR, Idaho— In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the  Northern Rockies fisher, a rare and vanishing species, may warrant federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. Fishers are cat-like, medium-sized members of the weasel family with slender, brown bodies and long, bushy tails. Related to minks and otters, and the only true predators of porcupines, these fishers once inhabited old-growth forests from northeastern Washington, Idaho, Montana and northwest Wyoming to north-central Utah. Trapping and loss of habitat from logging decimated the population, and Northern Rockies fishers are now found only along the border of Idaho and northern Montana. The Service will now undertake a one-year status review to determine if federal protection is warranted.

Fisher
Photo courtesy Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. This photo is available for media use.

“We’re glad to see that the Service recognizes the plight of this rare carnivore,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a staff attorney with the Center. “We urge the Service to act swiftly to ensure protection for the Northern Rockies fisher before the population declines any further.”

Despite a struggling population, fishers are still legally trapped in Montana, and as trapping for wolves, bobcats and other species has been on the rise in Idaho and Montana, so have levels of “incidental” trapping of fishers. Twice as many fishers have been incidentally trapped in Idaho since 2008 as were captured from 2002 to 2007. Reported nontarget catch of fishers by individual fur-takers in Idaho from the 2010-2011 season through the 2013-2014 season have totaled 142, 62 of which have been killed.  It is unknown how many fishers are incidentally trapped and killed in Montana each year because the state does not maintain records of nontarget catch.

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. When new information emerged describing the threats to the species, including the increased rate of trapping in Idaho and Montana, the Center and five other conservation organizations filed another petition seeking federal protection in September 2013.

When the Service failed to respond to that petition within the year allotted by law, the groups filed a notice of intent to sue the agency; today’s finding is the Service’s first step to respond to that petition. The groups that filed the 2013 petition include the Center, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Bitterroot, Friends of the Clearwater, Friends of the Wild Swan and Western Watersheds Project.

“Protections and conservation strategies provided by an endangered species listing could turn the tide for fishers in the Rockies,” said Kylie Paul, Rockies and Plains representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “This population can’t afford to wait any longer.”

“Fishers in the Clearwater region of Idaho and surrounding areas are key to the species’ survival in the U.S. Rockies,” 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. This finding is a step in the right direction.”

“Fishers need protection now,” said Arlene Montgomery, program director for Friends of the Wild Swan. “Intensive surveys between 2012 and 2014 in the Southwest Crown of the Continent failed to detect any fishers, yet trapping in Montana continues to kill them and logging is degrading their habitat.”

“It’s a shame to lose any of these rare animals to incidental trapping,” said Travis Bruner, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “But losing dozens is completely unacceptable. It’s high time that the Endangered Species Act recognize the risks the fisher is facing and for the federal government to step in and protect it.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Defenders of Wildlife is a national non-profit conservation organization founded in 1947 focused on conserving and restoring native species and the habitat upon which they depend, and with more than 1,200,000 members and supporters nationwide including more than 5,000 in Montana.

Friends of the Bitterroot is a nonprofit organization with over 350 members dedicated to forest protection and conservation of native wildlife species in the Bitterroot valley and surrounding National Forests.

Friends of the Clearwater is an Idaho-based nonprofit conservation organization that works to protect the wildness and biodiversity of the public wildlands, wildlife, and waters of Idaho’s Clearwater Basin.

Friends of the Wild Swan is a Montana nonprofit conservation group that protects water quality, fish and wildlife in northwest Montana.

Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit conservation group founded in 1993 with 1,500 members whose mission is to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives and litigation.

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6 Responses to Northern Rockies Fishers One Step Closer to Endangered Species Act Protection

  1. avatar Ida Lupines says:

    Awwwww, that’s good news. 🙂

  2. avatar Kirk Robinson says:

    Good news indeed. My girlfriend and I saw a fisher climbing up an embankment and entering the forest on the south side of the highway down from Mesa Falls, just a couple hundred yards or so below where Robinson Creek enters Warm River. I’ve seen martens too, and it definitely wasn’t a marten – darker, bigger, pointed tail not fluffy. Found a dead one near an abandoned 1903 Mormon Church in Porterville, Utah about 25 years ago. Why it would have been there is a mystery.

  3. avatar Kathleen says:

    Number of fishers: unknown. Number of fishers trapped unintentionally in MT: unknown. More than 60 of an unknown number killed as nontarget victims of traps in ID over 4 trapping seasons. Northern Rockies fishers are a distinct population segment. Habitat loss. Climate change. Geez! Let’s think about it some more.

    In late 2010 I saw the only fisher I’ve ever seen when we were out roaming the wilds. High in the Tetons, on a solo hike, I came virtually face-to-face with a marten (neither of us ran). One Thanksgiving, a long tailed weasel came rippling through the snow right up to our deck as we were putting up Christmas lights! In the Yellowstone backcountry near Heart Lake, I stood transfixed at a downed log, watching a short-tailed weasel go about his/her life. Have yet to see a wolverine…man, that’ll be a big day!

  4. avatar rork says:

    We allow marten and fisher trapping in upper MI, even though it seems pretty ridiculous. Marten seems to still be maybe OK, maybe worrisome – take was increasing (increased number of trappers), but effort per animal flat, about 450/year in 2013. Fisher not – effort per animal had been increasing, but take was flat at best, about 250 per year. So we finally reduced to just one of either per trapper per year around 2012. Not enough data since then (no report from last winter out yet), but it might still be too many fishers being killed. Even a fisher pelt is only worth about 60$. That’s 15000$ of fishers total per year. Can we offer to outbid the trappers or pay them? Sadly every extra pelt is a bit of money to those trappers.

  5. At least one fisher in Montana was known and reported as “incidentally” trapped. At the end of 2014, it was killed in a conibear, body crushing quick kill, trap set for the much smaller pine marten. Both living in the same type habitat, that isn’t too surprising and both would be attracted to much the same bait. An average 60,000 wildlife are reported trapped and killed in Montana, annually. These do not include the “non-targets”, the “incidental and accidental” dead or released “unharmed”. The reports are predominantly from 1/3 of trapper’s voluntarily reporting. Only 5 of the 15 legally trapped species in Montana have to be reported. How many never get reported and why are animals, such as the rare Fisher, legally trapped in regions of Montana to begin with? The fact their pelts doubled in four years? Trapping is market driven. The fur demands from Russia and China have recently plummeted but we are yet to see a decline in trapper’s recreation. Some say they are just stockpiling their furs.

  6. The slow journey to ESA listing. A step in the right direction that will most likely need to be followed by another lawsuit in 12-15 months. The Clearwater country of north-central Idaho has some of the best remaining habitat for northern Rockies fisher. http://www.friendsoftheclearwater.org/northern-rocky-fisher/

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