- Associated Press - Thursday, April 14, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dropped its consideration to give the West Coast fisher - a small, weasel-like mammal predator whose population has nearly disappeared across the West Coast for decades - federal protections under the Endangered Species Act.

The federal agency had been considering listing the species as endangered since October 2014 due to concerns over logging practices and illegal pesticide use by marijuana growers, but since determined those threats weren’t as significant as previously thought.

Instead, the agency said it will continue reintroducing the fisher throughout the coast as it’s been doing since 2008.

“We arrived at our decision following a comprehensive evaluation of the science and after a thorough review of public input,” Ren Lohoefener, director of the agency’s Pacific Southwest Region, said in a statement. “The best available science shows current threats are not causing significant declines to the West Coast populations of fisher and that listing is not necessary at this time to guarantee survival.”

Thursday’s decision was yet another blow to environmentalists who have been fighting for such protections since the Center for Biological Diversity first petitioned the agency in 1994.

The Center criticized the federal agency, saying it succumbed to “pressure from the timber industry,” and said it might challenge Thursday’s decision in court.

“The politically driven reversal of proposed protection for the fisher is the latest example of the Fish and Wildlife Service kowtowing to the wishes of industry,” Tanya Sanerib, an attorney for the group, said in a statement.

The West Coast fisher - a member of the weasel family about the size of a cat with brown fur and bushy tails - began declining in numbers in the 1800s due to overtrapping and shrinking forest habitats. Population estimates today are anywhere from a couple hundred to a few thousand mostly in southern Oregon and Northern California. Wildlife officials have been reintroducing the species in parts of Washington state and California, and have similar plans for Oregon.

A different population of the same animal, however, still is being considered for federal protections in the Northern Rockies.

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