Friday, February 27, 2009

Conservationists seek protection for fishers

Groups: Member of the weasel family remains imperiled despite augmentation

Express Staff Writer

The fisher, a large member of the weasel family that lives in dense, old-growth forests of the northern Rocky Mountains, is in danger of disappearing and needs federal protection, conservationists said Wednesday.

A coalition of four regional conservation organizations—Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Clearwater, Friends of the Bitterroot and the Center for Biological Diversity—have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the species under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Despite its name, the reclusive fisher does not hunt fish, but a far more prickly prey.

"Any animal that hunts porcupines is a tough customer," said David Gaillard, Rocky Mountain representative of Defenders of Wildlife. "But this rare carnivore needs help to withstand the variety of threats it faces due to the loss and fragmentation of its remaining ancient forest habitat."

Prized for its thick, soft fur, fishers are similar to otters and minks and are closely related to the American marten. Male fishers weigh up to 15 pounds.

Fishers hunt for snowshoe hares and other small mammals and birds in low- to mid-elevation, old-growth forests. Timber companies value the secretive species because they can reduce tree damage caused by porcupines.

In Idaho, the fisher is most associated with the dense forests of the remote Clearwater region in the north-central part of the state. However, biologists with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game have fielded calls over the years suggesting that a few fishers may inhabit the forests in and around the northern Stanley Basin. The high-elevation area isn't considered prime fisher habitat because of its deep snows, which make travel difficult for the carnivore.

The marten and wolverine are two members of the weasel family known to occupy lands surrounding the Wood River Valley.

In past decades, the native population of fishers in the northern Rockies was supplemented with fishers trapped in British Columbia and the Midwest. Despite that, their status in the northern Rockies remains precarious, the petitioners contend.

"The fisher is an elusive and fascinating animal that as a top-level predator plays an important role in forests of the northern Rockies," said Noah Greenwald, biodiversity program director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Jason Kauffman:

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