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Northern Rockies Fisher Steps Closer to Endangered Species Protection

The Northern Rockies fisher is one step closer to protection under the Endangered Species Act. (Betty4240/iStockphoto)

The Northern Rockies fisher is one step closer to protection under the Endangered
Species Act. (Betty4240/iStockphoto)
January 12, 2016

HELENA, Mont. - The Northern Rockies fisher, a cat-sized weasel related to wolverines and otters and found in the border area of Idaho and Northern Montana, is one step closer to protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a finding today stating that fishers may warrant federal protections. The move comes in response to a 2013 petition from a coalition of conservation groups.

Kylie Paul, Rockies and Plains representative in Montana for Defenders of Wildlife, said logging has reduced the animals' habitat, and new reports show at least 300 fishers have been trapped in Idaho alone since 2000.

"There's new information that they are facing current and rather dire threat of increased levels of accidental or incidental trapping, by trappers that are targeting other species, like martens or bobcats," she said.

The increased catch of fishers is an unintended consequence of demand in Russia and China for fur coats made from bobcat pelts, Paul said. The Fish and Wildlife decision kicks off a 12-month review, and an in-depth examination of the threats fishers face, before the agency makes a final decision. A 60-day public comment period starts today.

Paul noted that it currently is illegal to trap fishers in Idaho but not in Montana.

"In Montana right now, they are still trapping fishers," she said. "There's a quota of trapped fishers despite the likelihood that they occur in extremely low numbers in the state."

An Endangered Species Act listing could trigger a ban on trapping or new rules on modifying traps so they're less likely to attract fishers, Paul said. A listing could also lead to greater protections for the old-growth forests where fishers often live.

The petition is online at biologicaldiversity.org.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - MT