Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for Northern Rockies Fisher

For Immediate Release, September 23, 2013

Contact:​Tierra Curry, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 522-3681
​​Kylie Paul, Defenders of Wildlife, (406) 370-6979
​​Gary Macfarlane, Friends of the Clearwater, (208) 882-9755
​​Travis Bruner, Western Watersheds Project (208) 788-2290
Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for Northern Rockies Fisher

Rare Forest Carnivore Threatened by Trapping, Habitat Loss

MISSOULA, Mont.— A coalition of conservation groups filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the Northern Rockies fisher, a secretive carnivore that lives in old-growth forests along the border of Montana and northern Idaho. The fisher is a cat-like, medium-sized member of the weasel family with a slender, brown body and long, bushy tail. The fisher nearly went extinct in the early 20th century because of trapping and logging of old-growth forests.

“This feisty carnivore that eats porcupines for breakfast has already fought off extinction once. But now it needs Endangered Species Act protection to protect it from the many threats it’s facing,” said Tierra Curry, a biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity and primary author of the petition.

Fishers are legally trapped in Montana, and in Montana and in Idaho they are sometimes accidentally caught in traps set for other species, such as martens and bobcats. In recent years the number of fishers caught in traps set for other species has increased dramatically, raising concerns for the rare carnivore’s survival. 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 was 46 fishers in the 2010-2011 trapping season, four of which were killed, and 30 fishers in the 2011-2012 trapping season, 18 of which were killed. There has also been an increase in the number of trapping licenses sold in recent years, likely related to trapping for wolves.

“Northern Rockies fishers are one of the rarest carnivores in the West. Their dangerously low numbers make this cousin of the weasel susceptible to ongoing and increasing threats such as trapping and habitat loss from logging and fires,” said Kylie Paul, Rockies and Plains representative at Defenders of Wildlife.

Today the Northern Rockies fisher is found only in sections of western Montana and northern and central Idaho, but it once ranged from eastern British Columbia and southwestern Alberta through areas of northeastern Washington, Idaho, Montana, northwest Wyoming and north-central Utah.

In 2011 the Service determined that fishers in the Northern Rockies portion of their range are distinct from fisher populations in the East and on the West Coast due to genetic differences. New genetic information has also revealed that the fisher is the only member of its genus, elevating its conservation priority. Previously fishers were considered to be in the same genus as martens.

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 must issue an initial finding on the new petition within one year.

“The increasing number of fishers being caught in traps is alarming and likely poses a threat to the northern Rockies fisher population. We hope the Service will act quickly to grant the fisher the protection it needs to address this problem,” said Arlene Montgomery, program director at Friends of the Wild Swan.

“Endangered Species Act protection will help save fishers in the Clearwater Basin where many fishers have been killed in the past few years by incidental trapping,” said Gary Macfarlane, ecosystem defense director at Friends of the Clearwater.

“Fisher habitat faces a variety of threats as a result of landscape manipulation and other human activities in the northern Rockies. 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,” said Travis Bruner, public lands director at Western Watersheds Project.

“Protecting the Northern Rockies fisher and its habitat will also protect habitat for many other species that make this region so special,” said Larry Campbell, conservation director at Friends of the Bitterroot.

The groups submitting the petition are the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Bitterroot, Friends of the Clearwater, Friends of the Wild Swan and Western Watersheds Project.




  1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    Maybe that 46 fishers trapped in the 2010-2011 wolf season with four killed, and 30 fishers in the 2011-2012 trapping season, 18 of them killed.

    After all, they can’t document a single fisher in the entire Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Idaho obviously has better fisher habitat, but 22 dead fisher seems incredible and horrible to me.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      Yes. So incredibly wasteful. We really can’t afford to be this careless about wildlife anymore. But so glad to hear about their being listed as Endangered!

      1. Ken Cole Avatar

        They haven’t been listed yet, we just submitted a petition to have them listed.

    2. SEAK Mossback Avatar
      SEAK Mossback

      If they are anything like martens (not particularly wary, quite inquisitive and always looking for a wide variety of calories) they are probably easily caught. I don’t know what size range individuals have but, with all the access in the northern Rockies, it seems that an increase in trapping effort that saturates more of the accessible area could make an important difference. I wonder if they are being caught in actual wolf sets? — of course, if more people are out going to the trouble to set traps for wolves they are probably also setting traps for other species at the same time. Interesting that they are now so rare or absent in the GYE — I remember reading a book describing fishers being present north of Yellowstone (Hellroaring) right after WWI. Of course, that was just before a huge fur boom in the 1920s as well as a period wide-spread poisioning of predators, even in the park.

  2. Robert Goldman Avatar
    Robert Goldman

    Get this done for fishers, please. Happy to see both large and small groups coming together to protect this feisty and fascinating animal. Fishers need ESA protection now.
    Bob Goldman
    Principal Organizer
    The National Rally to Protect America’s Wolves!
    September 7, 2013 • Washington DC

  3. cobackcountry Avatar

    I hike a ton in their habitat. That habitat is diminishing and has been changed forever due to beetle kill, fires and now floods. I hope they are protected!

  4. Wolfy Avatar

    Does anyone know where the proposed DPS would be? Which States will it affect or whether there is a map? It would be a great thing if the States would take some initiative instead of sitting on their thumbs and placating the hook/bullet folks. (IMHO)

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