Conservationists warn they will sue to protect Pacific fisher

GRANTS PASS, Ore. - Conservationists warned the federal government Tuesday they plan to sue to force an endangered species listing for the Pacific fisher, a cousin of the weasel that hunts in old growth forests of the West. 

The Center for Biological Diversity and five other conservation groups filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its decision last April that the fisher warranted Endangered Species Act protection, but was precluded by more pressing matters.

"There are species that have gone extinct waiting for protection," said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity in Portland. "The fisher is just one more species that needs protection of all old growth forests in the Northwest."

The notice is required by law before suing the government.

Conservation groups complain that the Bush administration chronically underfunds programs for considering new species for Endangered Species Act protection, leading to a situation where plants and animals cannot be considered for listing until the groups come with a court order.

Only 31 species have been listed as threatened or endangered in the four years under President George W. Bush, compared to 394 in eight years under President Clinton and 234 under President George H.W. Bush, Greenwald said. The backlog of candidates for protection is about 300 species.

"The Bush administration is manufacturing a budget crisis to cover up their opposition to endangered species protection and poor implementation of the nation's most important environmental law," said Greg Loarie, an attorney for Earthjustice representing the groups.

Last week, the Fish and Wildlife regional office in Sacramento, Calif., announced the listing of the California tiger salamander 10 years after protection was declared warranted but precluded by higher priority matters.

"In the current fiscal year, the service has been forced to spend nearly all its funding for the listing program in order to comply with court orders and judicially approved settlement agreements," Fish and Wildlife spokesman Al Donner said. "Regrettably, our highest priority now is responding to court orders."

Fishers are brown furry mammals, measuring about three feet long. Once spread across the West, they are down to three populations: in the Siskiyou, Klamath and Trinity mountains of northwestern California and southwestern Oregon, the southern Sierra Nevada, and reintroduced population in the Cascade Range of southern Oregon.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

WildlifeKlamath Siskiyou