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Groups plan to sue over Pacific fisher

Conservation groups plan to sue the federal government for backtracking on more than a decade's worth of studies when it failed this spring to list the Pacific fisher as a threatened species, saying isolated populations, including those in southwest Oregon, warrant protection.

The groups Monday filed an intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its April 16 decision against listing fishers under the federal Endangered Species Act, a decision the service said it made because voluntary and proactive wildfire and conservation measures were sufficient for the animal's survival.

Those efforts include the Ashland Forest Resiliency Stewardship Project in the Ashland watershed, where biologists are studying, among many things, the impacts of forest thinning and selective logging on fishers and how they use those altered habitats.

The conservation groups say the decision against listing fishers came with no new science pointing to improved health for the isolated fisher populations in Southern Oregon and Northern California, as well as those in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains. They also claim the service dismisses the threats of rodenticides at illegal marijuana operations.

Research shows small mammals killed by rodenticides poison fishers that eat the dead rodents.

"Drug cartels growing pot on public lands aren't interested in voluntary conservation measures," says Conservation Director George Sexton at the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, one of four groups planning the suit.

"If we want to keep the Pacific fisher around, we have to take these threats seriously," Sexton says. "Right now, we don't."

A Forest Service spokesman in Portland did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

Joining KS Wild in the 60-day notice of intent to sue the government over the fisher decision are the Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Protection Information Center and Sierra Forest Legacy. They are represented by Earthjustice.

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.

The service estimates anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000 fishers live in Southern Oregon and Northern California, including those in the South Cascades and Siskiyous.The southern Sierra Nevada population is about 300 animals, and more than 100 have been reintroduced in Washington.

After years of study and lawsuits, the service in October 2014 proposed listing fishers up and down the West Coast as threatened based on threats to its habitat from wildfire, some logging practices and illegal use of pesticides to protect illegal marijuana plantations from rat infestations.

However, the service said in April that while those threats still exist to these small predators, they are not causing significant enough impacts over the fisher's entire range to require a listing.

Sexton said similar decisions relying on voluntary conservation measures, such as decisions not to list wolverines and greater sage grouse as threatened, represent what he called politically and not biologically based decisions.

A listing would not prevent collaborative conservation efforts, but those efforts should not preclude a listing, Sexton says.

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

Forest Service biologist Dave Clayton prepares to release a Pacific fisher that was trapped in the Ashland watershed. Mail Tribune file photo