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No Endangered Species Act listing for Pacific fishers

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service again has rebuffed recommendations from its field biologists and declined to list Pacific fishers under the Endangered Species Act in Southern Oregon and Northern California, saying the cluster is balanced enough to withstand future setbacks, unlike another population to the south.

The agency Thursday announced it chose to split distinct populations of this rare forest carnivore — those that live in the Southern Sierra Mountains near Yosemite National Park and others in the Southern Oregon area — into two genetically separate species, then it listed the Sierra population as endangered.

The service argued that the Sierra population of a few hundred fishers was genetically different and separated by a 130-mile geographic gap from the Southern Oregon population of up to a few thousand.

The service stated that conservation agreements protecting fishers in Southern Oregon and Northern California, as well as its wider presence within its habitat, diversity of ages and breeding success “enable this population to maintain balance and withstand setbacks,” the service said Thursday.

Agency biologists last year recommended both groups be listed as a single threatened species, saying fishers were in peril from a combination of logging, climate change, wildfires and rodenticide poisoning from sources that included illegal marijuana grows.

Agency biologists previously recommended listing both groups of fishers as threatened in 2004, but the Fish and Wildlife Service never finalized a listing. Agency biologists again proposed federal protection in 2014, but that proposal was withdrawn two years later.

George Sexton, conservation director of the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, which had sued for listing, said that ignoring field biologists a third time on fisher protection in Southern Oregon and Northern California was “a political and not a biological decision.”

“The population is heading in the wrong direction, not the right direction,” Sexton said.

“I think the whole thing stinks to high heaven,” he said.

About the size of large house cats, fishers belong to a family of mammals that includes weasels, mink, martens and otters. They live in low- to mid-elevation forests and require cavities in trees for rearing their young, as well as forest canopies to rest and hide from predators.

The fisher’s range was reduced dramatically in the 1800s and early 1900s through trapping, predator and pest control, and changes in forest habitats from logging, fire, urbanization and farming, according to the service’s April 14 declaration.

The Siskiyou Mountains population of Pacific fishers is native, while another in the south Cascades is from fishers introduced by private timber owners to prey on porcupines, which damage young trees.

Fishers are the only animals known to prey regularly on porcupines.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Mail Tribune / file photoDevlin Madrone, left, contractor, and Forest Service biologist Dave Clayton work on a sedated Pacific fisher that was trapped in the Ashland watershed.