[Federal Register: July 10, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 132)]
[Page 41169-41174]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-day Finding for 
a Petition To List a Distinct Population Segment of the Fisher in Its 
West Coast Range as Endangered and To Designate Critical Habitat

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 90-day petition finding and initiation of status 


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 
90-day finding for a petition to list a distinct population segment 
(DPS) of the fisher (Martes pennanti) in its West Coast range, 
including portions of California, Oregon, and Washington, as endangered 
and to concurrently designate critical habitat in accordance with the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. We find the petition 
presents substantial information that the West Coast population of the 
fisher may be a distinct population segment for which listing may be 
warranted. We are initiating a status review to determine if listing 
this population is warranted.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on July 3, 2003. 
To be considered in the 12-month finding on this petition, comments and 
information should be submitted to us by September 8, 2003.

ADDRESSES: Data, information, comments, or questions concerning this 
petition should be submitted to the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife 
Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2800 Cottage Way, Sacramento, 
CA 95825-1846. The petition finding and supporting information are 
available for public inspection, by appointment, during normal business 
hours at the above address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jesse Wild, at the address given above 
(telephone 916/414-6600; facsimile 916/414-6713; electronic mail: 



    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as 
amended (Act) (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), requires that the Service make 
a finding on whether a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a 
species presents substantial scientific or commercial information 
indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted. We are to base 
this finding on all information available to us at the time we make the 
finding. To the maximum extent practicable, we are to make this finding 
within 90 days of the date we received the petition, and publish the 
notice of the finding promptly in the Federal Register. Our standard 
for substantial information for petitions is ``that amount of 
information that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the 
measure proposed in the petition may be warranted'' (50 CFR 424.14(b)). 
If we find that substantial information was presented, the Act requires 
that we promptly commence a review of the status of the species 
    On December 5, 2000, we received a petition, dated November 28, 
2000, to list a DPS of the fisher in its West Coast range, including 
portions of California, Oregon, and Washington, as endangered pursuant 
to the Act, and to concurrently designate critical habitat. The 
petitioners include 19 organizations and one individual, with the lead 
organizations identified as the Center for Biological Diversity and the 
Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign. We have reached our 90-day 
finding on this petition in accordance with an April 4, 2003, order by 
the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California. The order 
requires us to complete a finding by July 3, 2003 (Center for 
Biological Diversity v. Norton, Order Granting Plaintiffs' Motion for 
Summary Judgment, No. C 01-2950 SC).

Biology and Distribution

    The fisher is classified in the order Carnivora, family Mustelidae, 
which also includes weasels, mink, martens, and otters. It is a member 
of the genus Martes, and occurs only in North America. Goldman (1935 as 
cited in Powell 1993) recognized three subspecies of fisher, although 
he stated they were difficult to distinguish: Martes pennanti pennanti 
in the east and central regions; M. p. columbiana in the central and 
northwestern regions; and M. p. pacifica in the western region. 
Subsequent analyses, however, questioned whether there is a sufficient 
basis to support recognition of different subspecies (Grinnell et al. 
1937; Hagmeier 1959). Recent consideration of genetic variation 
indicates patterns of population subdivision similar to the earlier 
described subspecies, although it is not clear whether Goldman's 
designations of subspecies are taxonomically valid (Kyle et al. 2001; 
Drew et al. 2003).
    Fishers occur in the northern coniferous and mixed forests of 
Canada and northern contiguous United States, from the mountainous 
areas in the southern Yukon and Labrador Provinces in Canada southward 
to central California and Wyoming, the Great Lakes, New England, and 
Appalachian regions (Graham and Graham 1994; Powell 1994). The current 
distribution of fishers is much reduced from the historical 
distribution (Gibilisco 1994). The distribution has recovered since the 
1950s in some of the central and northeastern areas, a change 
attributed to factors such as trapping closures and reintroductions 
(Brander and Books 1973; Powell and Zielinski 1994).
    In Washington, Oregon, and California, fishers probably occupied 
most coniferous forest habitats prior to extensive settlement by 
Europeans (Grinnell et al 1937; Bailey 1936 and Dalquest 1948 as cited 
in Aubry and Lewis in press 2003). They use low-to mid-elevational 
forests up to 8,200 feet (ft) (2,500 meters (m)) (Grinnell et al. 1937; 
Schempf and White 1977; Aubry and Houston 1992). Extensive trapping in 
the 1800s and 1900s is frequently cited as the principal initial cause 
of the substantial reduction of the range of the fisher in all three 
States. Commercial trapping of the fisher has been prohibited in each 
of these States for decades. Other factors consistently identified as 
contributing to the reduction of the fisher's distribution in these 
states include the alteration of forest habitats as a result of logging 
and conversion to other land uses (e.g., Grinnell et al. 1937; Powell 
1993; Powell and Zielinski 1994; Lewis and Stinson 1998; U.S. 
Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service 2000).
    In Washington, the fisher historically occurred both east and west 
of the Cascade Crest (Scheffer 1938; Aubry and Houston 1992), in the 
Olympic Peninsula, and probably in southwestern and northeastern 
Washington (Lewis and Stinson 1998). An estimated 15 million acres (ac) 
(60,700 square kilometers (km2)), or 60 percent of the 
forested landscape in the State, was potential fisher habitat when 
European settlers arrived (Lewis and Stinson 1998). Based on extensive 
surveys and a lack of recent sightings or trapping reports, the fisher 
currently is considered to have been extirpated or reduced to scattered 
individuals in Washington (Aubry and Houston 1992; Lewis and Stinson 
1998). The State has listed the fisher as endangered (WAC 232-12-297).

[[Page 41170]]

    In Oregon, the fisher apparently has been extirpated from all but 
two portions of its historical range (Aubry and Lewis in press 2003). 
The two known extant populations are in the southwestern portion of the 
State: one in the southern Cascade Range that was established through 
reintroductions of fishers from British Columbia and Minnesota that 
occurred between 1961 and 1981, and one in the northern Siskiyou 
Mountains of southwestern Oregon that is presumed to be an extension of 
the population in northern California. The two populations appear to be 
disjunct and genetically isolated from each other (Aubry and Lewis in 
press 2003). The State has designated the fisher as a protected nongame 
species, considering it as a ``Sensitive Species--Critical Category.''
    In California, the fisher historically ranged throughout forested 
lands of the Sierra Nevada from Greenhorn Mountain in northern Kern 
County northward to the southern Cascades at Mount Shasta, and from the 
Klamath Mountains and north Coast Range near the Oregon border 
southward to Lake and Marin Counties (Grinnell et al. 1937). By the 
mid-1920s, the fisher was considered to still occur in much of its 
historical range in California, but at ``markedly reduced'' numbers 
(Grinnell et al. 1937). Recent surveys suggest there has been a 
reduction in the occupied range since the early 1900s, particularly in 
the central and northern portions of the Sierra Nevada ( Zielinski et 
al. 1995). Currently, there are two known populations in California, 
one in the northwestern part of the State (extending into southwestern 
Oregon) and the other in the southern Sierra Nevada, separated by 
approximately 260 miles (mi) (420 km) (Zielinski et al. 1995). The 
extent of this separation is far beyond the species' known maximum 
dispersal distance. The State considers the fisher to be a ``Species of 
Special Concern.''
    In the western United States, fisher denning and resting sites are 
forest stands with complex structural characteristics that are typical 
of late-successional forests (Powell and Zielinski 1994; Seglund 1995; 
Dark 1997; Truex et al. 1998; Aubry et al. 1999; Carroll et al. 1999; 
USDA Forest Service 2000; Zielinski et al. in litt. 2002). These 
characteristics include large trees and snags, coarse down woody-debris 
and other complex structure near the ground, a high amount of canopy 
closure and overhead cover, and multiple-layered vegetation. Large tree 
cavities and snags in areas of dense canopy cover are often used as 
natal and maternal den sites (Lewis and Stinson 1998; USDA Forest 
Service 2000); this may provide kits protection from predators while 
the mother is hunting (Lewis and Stinson 1998).
    Late-successional coniferous or mixed forests are considered to 
provide the most suitable fisher habitat because they provide abundant 
potential den sites and preferred prey species (Allen 1987). However, 
according to Powell (1993), forest type is probably not as important as 
the vegetative and structural aspects that lead to abundant prey 
populations and reduce fisher vulnerability to predation. Younger 
forests in which complex forest floor components such as large logs, 
snags, and tree cavities are maintained in significant numbers, and 
which provide a diverse prey base, may be suitable habitat for the 
fisher (Lewis and Stinson 1998). Powell and Zielinski (1994) concluded 
that although there has been some indication of fishers being detected 
in second-growth forests and areas with limited overhead canopy, it was 
not known whether the use was transient or based on stable (regularly 
used) home ranges. Based on their work and a review of other 
information, Powell and Zielinski stated that early- and mid-
successional forests are unlikely to provide the same prey resources, 
rest sites, and den sites as more mature forests. They also suggested 
that habitat for resting and denning sites may be more limiting for 
fishers than foraging habitat.
    Fishers have been found to be associated with riparian areas (Aubry 
and Houston 1992). Forested riparian areas often are protected from 
logging and generally are more productive, thus having the dense canopy 
closure, large trees, and general structural complexity such as broken 
top trees, snags, and coarse woody debris, all of which provide 
important rest site elements (Seglund 1995; Dark 1997).
    Fishers avoid areas with little forest cover or significant human 
disturbance and conversely prefer large areas of contiguous interior 
forest (Rosenberg and Raphael 1986; Powell 1993; Jones and Garton 1994; 
Seglund 1995; Dark 1997). At a landscape scale, patches of preferred 
habitat and the location of open areas with respect to these patches 
may be crucial to the distribution and abundance of fishers in an area; 
fishers will probably use patches of preferred habitat that are 
interconnected by other forest types, whereas they will not likely use 
patches of habitat that are separated by sufficiently large open areas 
(Buskirk and Powell 1994). Riparian corridors (Heinemeyer and Jones 
1994) and forested saddles between major drainages (Buck et al. 1983) 
may provide important dispersal habitat or landscape linkages (travel 
corridors) for the species.
    The fisher is a generalized predator with a diverse diet that 
includes snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus), porcupines (Erithizon 
dorsatum), birds, squirrels, mice, shrews, voles, reptiles, insects, 
deer carrion, vegetation, and fruit (Powell 1993; Martin 1994; 
Zielinski et al. 1999; Zielinski and Duncan in litt. 2002). They 
usually hunt on the ground and occasionally hunt in trees (Raine 1987; 
Powell 1993).
    Other than the breeding season, fishers are solitary. Their home 
ranges are large, varying across North America from 3,954 to 30,147 ac 
(16 to 122 km2) for males and from 988 to 13,096 ac (4 to 53 
km2) for females (Powell and Zielinski 1994; Lewis and 
Stinson 1998).
    Fishers have a low annual reproductive capacity. Males may not be 
effective breeders until they are 2 years old (Powell 1993). Females 
breed at the end of their first year, but because of delayed embryo 
implantation, do not produce a litter until their second year. Not all 
females produce young every year. Litters usually consist of 2 to 3 
kits, and are raised entirely by the female. Kits have developed their 
own home ranges by age 1 (Powell 1993). Although relatively little 
information exists on dispersal by young, recent evidence suggests that 
only juvenile males disperse long distances, which would affect the 
rate at which the fisher may be able to colonize formerly occupied 
areas within its historical range (Aubry et al. in press 2003).
    Fishers are estimated to live up to 7 to 10 years of age in the 
wild (Powell 1993). The most commonly reported mortality factors 
include predation, incidental trapping (i.e., in traps set for other 
species), and being struck by vehicles (e.g., Buck et al. 1994; Lewis 
and Zielinski 1996; Lewis and Stinson 1998; Truex et al. 1998).

Distinct Population Segment

    Under the Act, we must consider for listing any species, 
subspecies, or, for vertebrates, any distinct population segment of 
these taxa, if there is sufficient information to indicate that such 
action may be warranted. To implement the measures prescribed by the 
Act and its Congressional guidance, we and the National Marine 
Fisheries Service (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration--
Fisheries) developed a joint policy that addresses the recognition of 
DPSs of vertebrate species for potential listing actions (61 FR 4722). 
The policy specifies that we are to use two elements to assess whether 
a population

[[Page 41171]]

segment under consideration for listing may be recognized as a DPS: (1) 
the population segment's discreteness from the remainder of the species 
to which it belongs; and (2) the significance of the population segment 
to the species to which it belongs. Our evaluation of significance is 
made in light of Congressional guidance that the authority to list DPSs 
be used ``sparingly'' while encouraging the conservation of genetic 
diversity. If we determine that a population segment meets the 
discreteness and significance standards, then the level of threat to 
that population segment is evaluated based on the five listing factors 
established by the Act to determine whether listing the DPS as either 
threatened or endangered is warranted.
    Under our DPS policy, a population segment of a vertebrate species 
may be considered discrete if it satisfies either one of the following 
two conditions: (1) it is markedly separated from other populations of 
the same taxon as a consequence of physical, physiological, ecological, 
or behavioral factors (quantitative measures of genetic or 
morphological discontinuity may provide evidence of this separation); 
or (2) it is delimited by international governmental boundaries within 
which differences in control of exploitation, management of habitat, 
conservation status, or regulatory mechanisms exist that are 
significant in light of section 4(a)(1)(D) of the Act.
    Substantial information is presented in the petition and other 
documents in our files indicating the West Coast population may be 
markedly separated from other populations of the fisher. Physical 
barriers that result in separation from fisher populations that occur 
in the Rocky Mountains and the eastern United States include major 
highways, major rivers, urban and rural nonforested areas, agricultural 
development, and other areas such as the Okanogan Valley in Washington. 
Along the West Coast, the Oregon Cascade Range population is described 
as being separated from the population in British Columbia by more than 
400 mi (650 km) (Aubry and Lewis in press 2003), and fishers in the 
southern Sierra Nevada are approximately 260 mi (420 km) from those in 
northern California (Zielinski et al. 1995). Quantitative measures of 
genetic discontinuity also indicate there may be a marked separation of 
the West Coast population from other populations of the taxon. Genetic 
studies indicate the historical continuity in fisher distribution that 
once provided for genetic interchange among populations no longer 
exists in the western United States (Aubry and Lewis in press 2003). 
Genetic analyses also indicate that native populations of the fisher in 
California and the reintroduced population in the southern Cascade 
Mountains of Oregon have become isolated from the main body of the 
species, probably due to extirpation of the fisher in Washington and 
northern Oregon (Drew et al. 2003). The West Coast population also may 
be markedly separated from other populations as a result of ecological 
factors, as they use forest types that differ in species composition, 
tree size, and habitat structure as compared to those used by fishers 
in the northeastern United States, eastern Canada, and the Great Lakes 
region (Buskirk and Powell 1994; Powell and Zielinski 1994). However, 
the extent to which such ecological factors may result in a marked 
separation of the West Coast population from populations in the Rocky 
Mountains or British Columbia is less clear.
    Information in the petition and in our files pertaining to the 
second criterion for discreteness suggests the West Coast population of 
the fisher may be delimited by the international governmental boundary 
between the United States and Canada with regard to differences in 
control of exploitation, management of habitat, conservation status, 
and regulatory mechanisms that may be significant with respect to 
section 4(a)(1)(D) of the Act. For example, commercial harvest of the 
fisher is allowed in British Columbia, but trapping the species has 
been prohibited for decades in Washington, Oregon, and California 
(Lewis and Stinson 1998). Also, Canada has no overarching forest 
practices laws governing management of its national lands. In contrast, 
in the United States, lands within the National Forest System, 
including the wildlife habitat occurring there, are considered under 
the National Forest Management Act of 1976, as amended (16 U.S.C. 
1600), and associated planning regulations. Therefore, the petition and 
other documents in our files present substantial information indicating 
that the West Coast population of the fisher may meet one or both of 
the conditions for discreteness under our DPS Policy.
    Our DPS policy states that our consideration of a population 
segment's biological and ecological significance may include, but is 
not limited to, the following: (1) Persistence of the discrete 
population segment in an ecological setting unusual or unique for the 
taxon; (2) evidence that loss of the discrete population segment would 
result in a significant gap in the range of the taxon; (3) evidence 
that the population segment represents the only surviving natural 
occurrence of a taxon that may be more abundant elsewhere as an 
introduced population outside its historical range; and (4) evidence 
that the discrete population segment differs markedly from other 
populations of the species in its genetic characteristics.
    Fishers in the West Coast population persist in an ecological 
setting that may be unusual in comparison to the rest of the taxon, 
with a different climate, topography, and habitat than are found in the 
majority of its range. The potential loss of the West Coast population 
could result in a significant gap in the range of the species by 
eliminating the southwest portion of its range. Also, the populations 
in the southern Sierra Nevada and northern California/southern Oregon 
appear to be the only extant native populations of the fisher remaining 
in the West Coast States (Truex et al. 1998; Aubry et al. in press 
2003; Drew et al. 2003), and based on our review of maps provided by 
Lewis and Stinson (1998), these are two of only seven or eight 
remaining areas occupied by fishers in the United States. Loss of the 
West Coast population could result in the loss of a significant genetic 
entity, since they have been described as being genetically distinct 
from fishers in the remainder of North America (Drew et al. 2003). 
Based on our review of the petition and other documents in our files, 
there is substantial scientific information indicating that the West 
Coast population of the fisher may have significance to the remainder 
of the taxon.
    Because the petition and other documents present substantial 
information the West Coast population of the fisher may be both 
discrete and significant, it may constitute a valid DPS and thus may be 
a listable entity under the Act.

Conservation Status

    Under our DPS policy, if a vertebrate population segment is 
discrete and significant (i.e., it is a distinct population segment) we 
will base its evaluation for endangered or threatened status on the 
Act's definition of those terms and a review of the factors enumerated 
in section 4(a). Under section 4(a) of the Act, we may list a species, 
subspecies, or vertebrate DPS on the basis of any of five factors, as 
follows: ``(A) the present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) overutilization for 
commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) 
disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory 
mechanisms; (E) other natural or

[[Page 41172]]

manmade factors affecting its continued existence.''
    The petition presents information and supporting references with 
regard to threats according to each of the five factors under section 
4(a)(1) of the Act, based on numerous publications in scientific 
journals and documents prepared by federal and State agencies. The 
petition concludes with a summary statement that the remaining 
populations of the fisher within its range on the West Coast are at 
risk due to ``a combination of continued habitat destruction caused by 
logging and development, poaching, predation, small population size and 
population isolation'' and also as a result of current regulations that 
the petitioners consider to be inadequate.
    With respect to factor A, information in the petition and other 
information in our files focuses on late-successional forests as the 
principal habitat of the West Coast population of the fisher. In some 
circumstances, areas other than late-successional forests may contain 
habitat features used by the fisher, and not all late-successional 
forests are necessarily fisher habitat (e.g., forests at higher 
elevations). However, late-successional forests appear to be an 
appropriate index of suitable habitat. The petition and other 
information in our files indicates that present and expected future 
timber harvests, various types of development, and recreational 
pressure may result in the destruction, modification, or curtailment of 
the fisher's habitat and range. Some of these effects, such as timber 
harvest and various human developments, may be more likely to occur on 
private land than on the National Forests and other public lands within 
the range of the fisher, due to differences in management. An estimated 
25 percent of the historical range of the fisher in the Sierra Nevada 
is on non-federal land, and approximately 60 percent of the private 
land is managed as industrial forest. In recent years these industrial 
forest lands have accounted for more than 80 percent of the timber 
volume harvested in the Sierra Nevada, and recent analyses concluded 
``Old forest conditions on private land [in the Sierra Nevada] may 
decrease'' (USDA Forest Service 2000). In the portion of Washington, 
Oregon, and northern California covered by the Northwest Forest Plan 
(NWFP) (concerning management of certain Forest Service and Bureau of 
Land Management (BLM) lands), approximately 34 percent of the fisher's 
range is estimated to be on non-federal land, where timber harvest is 
expected to continue in various portions of late-successional forest 
(USDA and U.S. Department of the Interior (USDI) 1994). Portions of 
late-successional forests on the National Forests and BLM lands also 
are subject to timber harvest under the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994).
    Although the effects of recreational activities on wildlife 
species, including the fisher, are not well understood, such activities 
can result in displacement of animals from habitat (i.e., indirectly 
degrading habitat suitability) or have other negative impacts. 
According to the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the 
Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment (SNFPA), the human population in 
the Sierra Nevada is expected to be nearly 2 million by 2040, more than 
triple the population in 1990, and recreational activities of various 
types are expected to increase (USDA Forest Service 2000). The human 
population increase also is expected to result in increased 
developments of various types, particularly on private lands, and this 
also may reduce and fragment fisher habitat.
    Habitat fragmentation is a concern because, as noted above, fishers 
avoid crossing open areas. Lack of habitat connectivity may result in 
significant delay or failure to access and use patches of suitable 
habitat. Lack of connectivity also may contribute to population 
isolation. The analysis of the connectivity of old forests in the 
Sierra Nevada noted that ``checkerboard'' land ownership patterns in 
the central Sierra Nevada (where there is considerable intermingling of 
private land with National Forest System land), coupled with 
assumptions about reasonably foreseeable timber harvesting on private 
lands, make the retention of connectivity ``problematic'' in these 
areas (USDA Forest Service 2000). The FEIS further stated that: ``* * * 
lack of appropriate habitat elements, including large trees and snags, 
the lack of connectivity among patches of remaining habitat, the 
fragmenting effect of major highways, and human disturbance associated 
with the presence of smaller roads'' may account for the lack of 
increase or expansion of the fisher population in the southern portion 
of the Sierra Nevada.
    The petition cites the risk of crown fires to fisher habitat as one 
of the natural or anthropogenic factors affecting the continued 
existence of the West Coast fisher population. Changes in the structure 
of forests--due to past timber harvest practices, fire suppression, and 
other activities--have resulted in increased fuel loadings in many 
forested areas, which in turn have increased the risk of crown or 
``stand-replacing'' fires. The petitioners also assert, however, that 
the late-successional, mixed conifer forests where the fisher generally 
is found are at lower risk of crown fires than other seral-stages and 
forest types, and that fuels reduction activities could pose risks to 
the fisher. In particular, they cite the potential for such activities 
to reduce the large trees and snags used by the fisher for resting and 
    The analyses for the SNFPA considered the likelihood and potential 
effects of fires of various intensities in the Sierra Nevada, as well 
as the potential effects of prescribed fire or mechanical fuels 
reduction treatments. The FEIS stated there is considerable uncertainty 
regarding fire effects on large trees, as well as uncertainty regarding 
the effects of prescribed fire or various mechanical fuels reduction 
treatments on canopy closure and other components of fisher habitat in 
the Sierra Nevada (USDA Forest Service 2000). Regarding the remainder 
of the West Coast range of the fisher (i.e., Washington, Oregon, and 
northern California), the petition and our files for this 90-day 
finding contain almost no specific information regarding the risk to 
the fisher and its habitat posed by potential crown fires, or the 
potential threats or benefits to fisher habitat that may be associated 
with various fuels reduction treatments.
    With regard to factor B, overutilization for commercial purposes, 
the trapping of fishers has been prohibited for decades in California, 
Oregon, and Washington. However, fishers sometimes are incidentally 
caught in traps legally set for other furbearers (Luque 1983 as cited 
in Lewis and Stinson 1998; Douglas and Strickland 1987; Lewis and 
Zielinski 1996), which can result in crippling injury or mortality 
(Cole and Proulx 1994; Strickland and Douglas 1984 as cited in Lewis 
and Zielinski 1996). Information is limited regarding the extent to 
which incidental trapping or poaching may be affecting the fisher, but 
even low rates of additive mortality from trapping have been predicted 
to affect fisher population stability (Powell 1979; Lewis and Stinson 
1998), and may slow or negate population responses to habitat 
improvement (Powell and Zielinski 1994).
    With regard to factor C, the available information indicates that 
disease is not a significant threat, while the threat posed by 
predation is not clear. Healthy adult fishers are not usually subject 
to predation (Powell and Zielinski 1994), but predation risk may be 
greater in areas with relatively less canopy cover and forest structure 
(Buck et al. 1994). Truex et al. (1998) stated that predation

[[Page 41173]]

and being struck by vehicles were important causes of mortality of 
fishers in northern California and the southern Sierra Nevada. The 
threat posed by predation may be exacerbated by small population size 
(see discussion of factor E, below).
    Regarding factor D, the petitioners present information to support 
their assertion that the West Coast population of the fisher is 
threatened by the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms. Because 
the petition predates the SNFPA, which was adopted in January of 2001, 
information for the Sierra Nevada presented in the petition was based 
on a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the SNFPA. According to 
the FEIS (USDA Forest Service 2000), the SNFPA would generally improve 
upon previous management for fishers on the involved National Forest 
lands, although it represents some risk to fisher habitat. The FEIS 
provided separate predictions of outcomes for the fisher environment 
and for fisher populations on National Forests in the Sierra Nevada 
after 50 years under a range of management alternatives. For the 
alternative adopted by the SNFPA, the predicted outcome for the 
environment of the fisher on the National Forests was as follows: 
``Suitable environments are either broadly distributed or of high 
abundance across the range of the species; however, there are temporary 
gaps where suitable environments are absent or only present in low 
abundance. Disjunct areas of suitable habitat are typically large 
enough and close enough to permit dispersal and interaction among 
subpopulations across the species' range.'' The predicted population 
outcome was slightly worse: ``Suitable environments are frequently 
distributed as patches or they exist at low abundance, or both. Gaps, 
where suitable environments are either absent or present in low 
abundance, are large enough that some subpopulations are isolated, 
limiting opportunity for species interactions. In most of the species' 
range, subpopulations have the opportunity to interact as a 
metapopulation; however, some subpopulations are so disjunct or of such 
low density that they are essentially isolated from other populations'' 
(USDA Forest Service 2000). The Forest Service is proposing changes to 
the SNFPA and recently issued a draft supplemental EIS for public 
review and comment (68 FR 35406); thus, the potential effects of the 
SNFPA will have to be reevaluated based on any changes that are adopted 
as a result of the final supplemental EIS.
    For the National Forests and BLM lands in Washington, Oregon, and 
northern California covered by the Northwest Forest Plan, the report of 
the Forest Ecosystem Management Assessment Team (FEMAT) projected a 63 
percent future likelihood for achieving an outcome in which habitat for 
the fisher is of sufficient quality, distribution, and abundance to 
allow the species population to stabilize, well distributed across 
Federal lands in the NWFP area (FEMAT 1993). The analysis for the NWFP 
acknowledged that population sizes of the fisher in the Pacific 
Northwest are quite low in portions of its range, ``causing some 
uncertainty that populations will recover even if habitat conditions 
are sufficient to support well-distributed, stable populations'' (USDA 
and USDI 1994). Some aspects of the NWFP (e.g., the Aquatic 
Conservation Strategy and the ``survey and manage guidelines'') are 
presently undergoing changes, which may result in changes in Forest 
Service and BLM management of habitat used by the fisher.
    As described above (see discussion of factor A), a substantial 
portion of the range of the fisher in Washington, Oregon, and 
California is on private land. Timber harvest on such lands is carried 
out in accordance with State regulations. Although these State 
regulations address various aspects of timber harvest on private lands, 
they do not contain specific provisions to protect fishers or fisher 
habitat. The State regulations do, however, address retention of large 
trees, canopy closure, and riparian areas. The extent to which the 
State regulations on timber harvest affect fragmentation of fisher 
habitat is unclear.
    Under section 10 of the Act, a non-Federal entity with a habitat 
conservation plan (HCP) that meets certain requirements may receive 
authorization from us to ``take'' federally listed species. Several 
HCPs in California, Oregon, and Washington contain conservation 
strategies that protect habitat for the northern spotted owl (Strix 
occidentalis caurina) or marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) 
and may provide some benefit to fishers or have fisher-specific 
protection measures. The petitioners assert that protections provided 
by the Federal listing of the northern spotted owl do not necessarily 
translate to protections for fishers on Federal lands or on private 
lands, and that there has been little or no analysis of the adequacy of 
the HCPs with regard to the fisher. According to Lewis and Stinson 
(1998), fishers require larger areas and are more sensitive to habitat 
fragmentation than the owl. Protections provided by the Federal listing 
of the marbled murrelet may provide habitat for fishers on low-
elevation private lands, but the extent to which this occurs has not 
been determined.
    The petition asserts there are few to no specific State regulations 
to protect the fisher on State lands in California and Oregon. In 
Oregon, the fisher is designated a protected nongame species and is 
listed as a ``Sensitive Species--Critical Category.'' In California, 
the fisher is classified as a furbearing mammal that is protected from 
commercial harvest and it is a ``Species of Special Concern.'' Our 
evaluation indicates that these designations in Oregon and California 
do provide some protection to the fisher in the form of voluntary 
conservation efforts and fines for illegal trapping. In the case of 
California, the fisher and its habitat also may receive consideration 
under the California Environmental Quality Act. The fisher is listed by 
the State of Washington as endangered, which provides additional 
protections in the form of more stringent fines for poaching and a 
process for environmental analysis of projects affecting the species.
    The management plans for California's and Oregon's State Forests do 
not appear to contain specific measures addressing the fisher. The 
State Forests in California and Oregon consist of small, widely 
scattered parcels or larger areas of highly fragmented forest habitat, 
and they generally are not managed to maintain late-successional 
habitat characteristics. The State lands in Washington are managed by 
the Washington Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). Because these 
lands generally occur at lower elevations than National Forest lands in 
the State, a higher proportion is within the elevational range 
preferred by the fisher (Aubry and Houston 1992; WDNR 1997). More than 
half of all WDNR forest lands are under 60 years in age and less than 
10 percent are more than 50 years of age, indicating the State's 
management of these lands does not result in retaining late-
successional forests (WDNR 1997) that are typically considered to 
provide fisher habitat.
    The petition mentions tribal lands but only presents information 
concerning a forest management plan for a relatively small tribal area 
in northern California where fishers are known to occur. Very little of 
the available information in our files addresses management of the 
fisher or its habitat on Native American lands, and further analysis 
would be needed to determine the adequacy of existing

[[Page 41174]]

regulatory mechanisms involving these lands.
    With regard to factor E, the petition states that because of small 
population sizes and isolation, fisher populations on the West Coast 
may be in danger of extinction from inbreeding depression (i.e., 
negative genetic effects) and unpredictable variation in demographic or 
environmental characteristics (demographic and environmental 
stochasticity). Small populations of wildlife are considered to be at 
risk of extinction solely from demographic and environmental 
stochasticity, independent of deterministic factors, such as human-
caused habitat loss (Lande and Barrowclough 1987; Lande 1993). 
According to Heinemeyer and Jones (1994), the greatest long-term risk 
to the fisher in the western United States is probably population 
extinction due to isolation of small populations. Aubry and Lewis (in 
press 2003) consider the inability of extant fisher populations to 
support one another demographically, including those that are isolated 
by relatively small distances, or to colonize currently unoccupied 
areas within their historical range, to be significant conservation 
concerns. Also, the significance of mortality factors such as 
incidental trapping or being struck by vehicles may be greater for 
small populations of fishers (Powell 1979; USDA Forest Service 2000), 
and the same may be true with regard to mortality due to predation.
    Lewis and Stinson (1998) note that although commercial trapping of 
fishers has been prohibited in Washington for approximately 70 years, 
the species has not recovered in the State. They suggest that any small 
population that may still exist in Washington is at risk due to natural 
variation in demographic factors (e.g., variable reproduction and 
survival) and environmental effects, as well as potential negative 
genetic effects that can affect small populations. They consider the 
remaining fishers in Washington to be unlikely to represent a viable 
population and conclude that the species is likely to be extirpated 
from the State without recovery activities. Despite the protections 
afforded by the NWFP, the low population level of the fisher in the 
portions of the range covered by the plan in Washington, Oregon and 
northern California results in ``uncertainty that populations will 
recover even if habitat conditions are sufficient to support well-
distributed, stable populations,'' and the recovery of fisher 
populations in the NWFP area is likely to be slow due to the species' 
low reproductive rate and small population size (USDA and USDI 1994). 
The fisher population in the southern Sierra Nevada is thought to be at 
substantial risk because of several factors, including isolation, small 
population size, demographic and environmental stochasticity, and low 
reproductive capacity, in addition to ongoing habitat loss (Zielinski 
et al. 1995; Lamberson et al. in litt. 2000; Drew et al. 2003).


    We have reviewed the petition, literature cited in the petition, 
and information available in Service files. We have found that the 
petition presents substantial information indicating the West Coast 
population of the fisher may be a distinct population segment for which 
listing may be warranted.
    The petition also requests us to designate critical habitat for 
this species. If we determine in our12-month finding that listing the 
fisher in its West Coast range is warranted, we will address the 
designation of critical habitat in the subsequent proposed listing rule 
or as funding allows.

Public Information Solicited

    When we make a finding that substantial information exists to 
indicate that listing a species may be warranted, we are required to 
promptly commence a review of the status of the species. To ensure that 
the status review is complete and based on the best available 
scientific and commercial information, we are soliciting information on 
the fisher in California, Oregon, and Washington. This includes 
information regarding historical and current distribution, biology and 
ecology, ongoing conservation measures for the fisher and its habitat, 
and threats to the fisher and its habitat. We also request information 
regarding the adequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms including, but 
not limited to, State regulations pertaining to timber harvest, as well 
as the California Environmental Quality Act and any similar regulations 
that are applicable in Oregon or Washington. In addition to requesting 
information on the fisher in its West Coast range, we are requesting 
information on the species rangewide for the purpose of determining if 
the fisher in its West Coast range constitutes a DPS, or more than one 
DPS, or constitutes a significant portion of the range of the species. 
We request any additional information, comments, and suggestions from 
the public, other concerned governmental agencies, Tribes, the 
scientific community, industry or environmental entities, or any other 
interested parties concerning the status of the fisher.
    If you wish to comment, you may submit your comments and materials 
concerning this finding to the Field Supervisor (see ADDRESSES 
section). Our practice is to make comments, including names and home 
addresses of respondents, available for public review during regular 
business hours. Respondents may request that we withhold a respondent's 
identity, as allowable by law. If you wish us to withhold your name or 
address, you must state this request prominently at the beginning of 
your comment. However, we will not consider anonymous comments. To the 
extent consistent with applicable law, we will make all submissions 
from organizations or businesses, and from individuals identifying 
themselves as representatives or officials of organizations or 
businesses, available for public inspection in their entirety. Comments 
and materials received will be available for public inspection, by 
appointment, during normal business hours at the above address.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited herein is available on 
request from the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES 


    The primary author of this document is Jesse Wild (see ADDRESSES 


    The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: July 3, 2003.
Marshall P. Jones, Jr.,
Acting Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 03-17467 Filed 7-9-03; 8:45 am]