Feds: Fishers in Rockies may need protection | VailDaily.com

Feds: Fishers in Rockies may need protection

Associated Press Writer

BILLINGS, Mont. – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday that endangered species protections may be needed to protect the Northern Rockies fisher, a small, fanged predator that once thrived in the region’s old growth forests.

Fishers have been struggling to recover in Northern Rockies states since they were largely wiped out by over-trapping in the 1930s.

Small groups of the animals have been reintroduced to the region four times since 1959, but the Fish and Wildlife service said Thursday that significant threats remain from logging and commercial and residential development.

Fishers are agile furbearers, sometimes likened to otters, that prey on porcupines, snowshoe hares and other small mammals and birds. Montana allows trappers to harvest a combined seven fishers annually – an activity banned elsewhere in the West.

Conservation groups had petitioned the government last year to protect the predators under the Endangered Species Act.

By agreeing with most of the findings of that petition, the government has agreed to spend a year studying whether fishers could again disappear from the region without federal protections.

The formal announcement of the fisher review will be published Friday in the Federal Register.

Conservation groups estimate only 500 of the animals survive in Montana and Idaho. They once roamed as far south as Utah and Colorado.

A small West Coast population of the animals was deemed eligible for federal protection in 2004, although the government said other species had priority. They remain relatively abundant in parts of the Midwest and New England.

Thursday’s Fisher announcement was welcomed by David Gaillard with Defenders of Wildlife in Bozeman, who wrote the petition calling for more help for the Northern Rockies population.

“This is basically the first step in a possible listing, but an important first step,” he said. “The main reason they’re not doing well is the old growth in the West is severely reduced and is not coming back very fast.”

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