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Wherefore Art Thou, Fisher? U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Decides Not to List the Pacific Fisher

Posted in Endangered/Threatened Species

fisher_headerOn April 14, 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced that it would not list the Pacific Fisher under the Endangered Species Act. The fisher (Pekania pennant) is presently found in Southern Oregon, Northern California, and the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains, although historically, the species ranged the northern forests of Canada and the United States, as well as forests in the Appalachian, Rocky, and Pacific Coast Mountains. The fisher’s range was reduced in the 1800s and early 1900s through over-trapping for pelts, the poisonous impacts of predator and pest control, and alterations of forested habitats caused by logging, fire, urbanization, and farming. Only two naturally occurring fisher populations survive—one in the southern Sierra and another in Northern California—although the fisher has been reintroduced in the Olympic Natural Park, the Cascade Range, and private timberland in the northern Sierras. Reports from the studies of the fisher reintroduction on the Olympic Peninsula are positive.

In announcing its decision, the USFWS cited the groundswell of efforts to conserve fisher habitat and restore the population, including the reintroduction efforts and the execution of Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances, or CCAAs, which are permitted under Section 10(a)(1)(A) of the ESA. Through a CCAA, a property owner commits to implement conservation measures in exchange for receiving assurances that additional conservation measures will not be required and additional restrictions will not be imposed if the species is listed. These commitments are no small undertaking, and enrollment comes with a hefty fee. In addition, the agreements are effective even if the candidate species is not listed, although they can be terminated by the landowner.

Such conservation efforts have become a model for landowners seeking to strike a balance between preserving private use of land and protecting the environment, and, if enough landowners enroll in CCAA programs, their commitments have been effective at convincing USFWS not to list a species. In 2015, USFWS cited “an unprecedented conservation partnership” when it decided not to list the greater sage grouse. Perhaps the efforts to protect the greater sage grouse and the fisher represent a model of public-private partnership in marrying conservation with industry.