SAN FRANCISCO (November 28, 2000) - The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) today joined the Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental organizations in petitioning to list the West Coast population of the fisher as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. NRDC has urged the U.S. Forest Service to protect the fisher and its habitat in the Sierra Nevada for the past ten years and joined the petition in response to the Forest Service's failure to take timely steps to protect this elusive forest carnivore. Logging and road building sanctioned by the Forest Service in fisher habitat in the Sierra Nevada have played a key role in pushing the fisher to the brink of extinction.
The fishers population in the southern Sierra is likely between 100 and 500 individuals. A report by Forest Service scientists completed earlier this year concluded that this isolated fisher population "may face imminent extinction." The report emphasized that "long-term planning to restore the connectivity, extent and quality of old forest conditions should be the foundation for fisher recovery in the Sierra Nevada." Old growth forests in the Sierra Nevada have been reduced by approximately 80 percent compared to pre-settlement conditions.
NRDC has played a lead role in establishing the importance of protecting the fisher in the Sierra Nevada. In 1994, we petitioned the Forest Service to establish guidelines to protect and restore habitat for the fisher and other furbearing mammals. In response, the Forest Service agreed to address this issue in its regional plan for the Sierra Nevada national forests, "The Sierra Nevada Framework."
The Forest Service has issued three drafts of the plan, and NRDC's comments focused on the need to ensure the fisher's viability. The plan originally was scheduled for completion in 1995 and is long overdue. Unless it provides strong protections for the fishers habitat, the fishers future looks bleak. Thus, todays petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the fishers last best chance.
The fisher is just one of many species facing the possibility of extinction in the Sierra Nevada. Earlier this year, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued positive findings indicating that the California spotted owl, mountain yellow-legged frog, and Yosemite toad may all require protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The filing of the petition sets in motion a 90-day review process by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Meanwhile, the Forest Service is expected to release its final plan for Sierra Nevada national forests within the next 45 days.