Rare forest dweller needs protection

Conservation groups petition USFWS to protect the fisher under the ESA

(02/24/2009) - MONTANA - The northern Rockies fisher was thrown a potential lifeline today when four conservation groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the population under the Endangered Species Act.

In the western U.S., fishers once roamed dense old-growth forests of the northern Rockies down to northern Utah and the west coast down to the southern Sierra Nevada.  They have retreated and become increasingly rare in their remaining range due to trapping and logging in their forest habitat.  In 2004, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined the West Coast fisher population warranted protection as a threatened species, but that listing it was precluded by other priorities.   Because of similar threats, the petitioners seek protections for fishers in the northern Rockies. 

“Any animal that hunts porcupines is a tough customer,” said David Gaillard, Rocky Mountain representative of Defenders of Wildlife who authored the petition.  “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.”

The small native population of fishers in the northern Rockies has been supplemented with fishers that were introduced from British Columbia and the Midwest.  Even with that effort to increase the population, the status of fishers in the northern Rockies remains precarious. As a result, the petitioners seek to protect and restore fishers and their habitat across the region necessary to ensure their survival. 

“With their dependence on old-growth forests, fishers have special habitat needs that are not covered by our existing plans and policies that protect grizzly bears, wolves, or elk, for example,” said Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater.  “Adding fishers to the list of threatened or endangered species will help ensure that another vital component of our Northern Rockies natural heritage is protected,” he added.

“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.  “The fisher in the northern Rockies absolutely needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act to survive.”   

The petitioners include Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Clearwater, Friends of the Bitterroot, and Center for Biological Diversity.


The fisher, a rare and agile forest hunter prized for its thick, soft fur, is a member of the weasel family similar to otters and minks, and closely related to the marten.  Despite their name, fishers do not prey on fish. Fishers live in old-growth forests, where they prey on snowshoe hares and other small mammals and birds and have a remarkable ability to successfully hunt porcupines.  In fact, timber companies value fishers because they can reduce tree damage caused by porcupines. 

Read the petition text.


Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.  With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come.  For more information, visit www.defenders.org.




David Gaillard, Defenders of Wildlife, (406) 586-3970
Gary Macfarlane, Friends of the Clearwater, (208) 882-9755
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495