Fishers, whales stay on state endangered list after panel meets in Port Angeles

PORT ANGELES — Forest-dwelling fishers and five whales species maintained endangered species status at a meeting in Port Angeles last week.

The state Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 6-0 Friday to retain state-specific protections for the blue whale, fin whale, sei whale, North Pacific right whale, sperm whale and fishers during a five-year review at the Port Angeles Red Lion Hotel.

It also approved a staff recommendation to up-list the threatened yellow-billed cuckoo bird and loggerhead sea turtle as endangered to be consistent with federal listings.

Fishers are small mammals that were reintroduced to Olympic National Park from 2008 to 2010.

“We’re on our way to an unparalleled conservation success,” state Department of Fish and Wildlife Listing and Recovery Section Manager Hannah Anderson told the commission in a periodic status review Friday.

“We’re on our way, but we’re not there yet. We just need a little more time. Currently, we haven’t reached the recovery objectives to down, or de-list.”

The reintroduction of 90 fishers in Olympic National Park was part of a 2004 state recovery plan.

Scientists have seen a wide distribution of fishers and evidence of reproduction in the Olympics in the past nine years, Anderson said.

Sixty-nine fishers have been reintroduced to the south Cascade Mountains since December 2015, and plans are being made to release more fishers in the north Cascades.

“Once we secure a population, we need multiple secure populations to de-list,” Anderson said. “So our recommendation is to maintain its status as an endangered species in Washington.”

Fish and Wildlife officials received four written public comments on the fisher status review, all of which were supportive of the re-listing.

Fishers are the fifth largest member of the weasel family behind the sea otter, wolverine, badger and river otter, Anderson said. They live in the canopies of low- to mid-elevation forests, eating smaller mammals, birds and reptiles.

Fishers have been listed as endangered in Washington since 1998.

A proposal to give the West Coast fisher federal protections under the Endangered Species Act was shelved in 2016 “largely due to conservation actions happening here,” Anderson said.

The fishers that were released in Olympic National Park were from the Williams Lake area of central British Columbia.

“That’s actually the closest genetic match for our historic fishers that used to be here,” said Penny Becker, Fish and Wildlife diversity division manager, in response to Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Don McIsaac’s inquiry.

Prior to Friday, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife had 29 animals on its endangered species list, eight threatened species and six classified as sensitive, Becker said.

Reasons for listing a species as endangered include limited numbers, disease, predation factors and habitat loss, she added.

After a species is listed as endangered, Fish and Wildlife officials draft a recovery plan with specific strategies and objectives.

“Overall, our goal for imperiled species is really to identify them and then to restore those listed species so we can get healthy populations in their range in Washington, and then really get them back off the list as quickly as possible,” Becker said.

All five whale species that were retained as endangered Friday have been listed as endangered in Washington since 1981. All five have been federally listed since 1970.

“They’re all protected, of course, under the Marine Mammal Protection Act,” Anderson said.

Factors affecting whale populations include an overharvest during the whaling era, ship strikes, entanglements with fishing gear, disturbances from sound, effects of climate change on the food supply and oil spills and other contaminants, Anderson said.

State officials received 11 written comments on the re-listing of the five whale species, eight of which were supportive of the action.

Two called for an end to all commercial fishing, and one opposed the re-listing of the blue whale on the basis that its population had recovered.

________

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.