SAN FRANCISCO— Over the objections of independent and agency scientists, the California Fish and Game Commission today rejected protecting the Pacific fisher under the California Endangered Species Act. The Center for Biological Diversity had filed a formal petition with the Commission in 2008 seeking legal protection for the species, a member of the weasel family that lives in forests with old-growth characteristics. The fisher has already been extirpated from more than 40 percent of its range in California and continues to face the cumulative effects of timber harvest, disease, road kill, development, small population size and climate change.
In denying protection to the fisher, the Commission relied upon a status review prepared by the Department of Fish and Game that was soundly rejected by independent wildlife biologists, including fisher experts, who found many of the review’s conclusions unsupportable. Several experts explicitly noted that the fisher is deserving of protection under the California Endangered Species Act. Opposition to fisher protection came almost entirely from the timber industry.
“Today’s decision by the Commission to deny the fisher protection is a clear example of political appointees ignoring both science and the law in order to placate industry,” said Justin Augustine, a Center attorney. “Every independent biologist who has weighed in found the Department of Fish and Game’s status review of the fisher to be unjustified.”
Over the past year and a half, the Department of Fish and Game has been reviewing the fisher’s status in California in order to determine if the species needs protection under the California Endangered Species Act. The status review was launched in 2009 despite initial attempts by the Department and Commission to dismiss the Center’s petition; only after the Center revealed that the Department’s own scientists supported the petition was a status review initiated.
During the status review, the Department again ignored its own scientists and altered a draft version of the document that had determined the fisher faces numerous threats. The altered version, submitted to the Commission, downplayed those threats in order to conclude that listing was not warranted. A peer-review panel made up of five fisher experts generally agreed with the findings of the original document; independent biologists unanimously rejected many of the conclusions in the altered document as not scientifically credible. Experts maintain, for instance, that the extremely small population size of the southern Sierra fisher population indicates a serious risk of extinction.
“Previous decisions by the Commission to deny legal protection for imperiled species have been rejected by the courts. We are optimistic the fisher decision will be too,” added Augustine.