Rare Forest Carnivore Threatened by Trapping, Habitat Loss
MISSOULA, Mont.–(ENEWSPF)–September 23, 2013. 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.