Reversing course again in a 30-year-old battle over protection of a weasel-like mammal that eats porcupines, the U.S. government is declaring the Pacific fisher endangered in the southern Sierra Nevada but denying protection elsewhere in California and Oregon.
The Fish and Wildlife Service insists Endangered Species Act protection isn’t warranted for the fisher in the Sierra north of Reno, or along the California coastal range from San Francisco into southern Oregon.
But it says the southernmost population of 500 or fewer from Yosemite National Park to the mountains northeast of Los Angeles “is currently in danger of extinction.”
Effective June 15, the government published its final rule last week after a federal judge overturned the service’s most recent refusal to list the species in 2018. It makes it illegal to kill the house-cat-sized predator or destroy their habitat in the southern region only.
“We’re glad fishers have finally been protected in the southern Sierra, but they face threats throughout their range and need and deserve broader recovery,” said Sue Britting, executive director of Sierra Forest Legacy, one of the groups that sued to list the species.
The dispute bridging three decades and five presidential administrations began with conservationists’ 1990 petition to protect the short-legged, bushy-tailed carnivore.
Unlike past determinations, the service concluded the northern and southern populations are distinct segments with genetic differences, separated by 130 miles (210 kilometers) of “geographical barriers, urban development, unsuitable habitat.”
Once abundant throughout the Pacific Northwest, the animals were trapped to near extinction and much of their native habitat destroyed after the arrival of European settlers. They’ve recently been reintroduced in Washington.
Earlier government assessments considered all Pacific fishers the same species. The new rule states Sierra populations probably were separated more than a thousand years ago.
With as few as 100 remaining in