The Pacific fisher comes to court after disappearing from Sierra Nevada mountains

The Pacific fisher, found in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains, would gain federal protections under a new lawsuit.
The Pacific fisher, found in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains, would gain federal protections under a new lawsuit. Fish and Wildlife Service

Several environmental groups returned to their natural habitat in the courthouse on Wednesday in hopes of securing Endangered Species Act protections for the Pacific fisher, a mink-like creature found partly in California’s southern Sierra Nevada mountains.

In the latest turn of a long-running fight, the Center for Biological Diversity joined three other organizations in filing suit against the Fish and Wildlife Service over the federal agency’s April 2016 decision not to list the fisher as “threatened” under the ESA.

“It's a travesty that after finally acknowledging the precarious status of the fisher in 2014, the Fish and Wildlife Service bowed to the timber industry and declined to protect these beautiful carnivores,” Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

The Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Environmental Protection Information Center, and Sierra Forest Legacy joined the suit, filed in federal court in San Francisco.

Many decades of deforestation, fur trapping, and other destructive human activities have reduced Pacific fishers to a small faction of their historic range.

Lawsuit filed by Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups.

All of the parties claim an interest in protecting the Pacific fisher, whose population in the southern Sierra Nevada is now estimated to range between 100 and 500. Somewhere between 258 and 4,018 are thought to live in Northern California and southern Oregon.

Described in the lawsuit as “medium-sized members of the weasel family with thick, dark fur and long tails,” the Pacific fishers are wide-ranging mammals that favor remote locations. Once, they were abundant.

“Fishers are...gone from much of their historic range in the central and northern Sierra Nevada,” the lawsuit prepared by Earthjustice attorney Gregory C. Loarie noted.

Environmental groups first petitioned to protect the Pacific fisher in 2000. After many twists and turns, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed in 2014 to list the species as threatened. By 2016, officials had changed their minds.

“The fisher is not exhibiting population declines in any portion of its range,” the agency stated, adding that “the best available information does not suggest any negative consequences in terms of population abundance or other indicators across the west coast states.”

Michael Doyle: 202-383-6153, @MichaelDoyle10