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New Glimmer Of Hope For Species Threatened By Rat Poison On Illegal Pot Farms

<p>Photo: John Jacobson, <a class="checked-link" href="http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisher/" style="text-decoration: none;">Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife</a></p>

The long, skinny fisher has already survived two centuries' worth of logging and fur trapping. But there's a new threat to this alley-cat-meets-weasel-esque animal: rat poison on illegal pot farms.

Illegal marijuana farmers on the West Coast have been applying large amounts of rodenticides on public land in the Sierra Nevada region. It's unclear whether the predatory fishers are snacking on the toxic bait itself, which smells like fish or meat, or if they're eating poisoned rats. But in a 2012 study, researchers found anticoagulant rat poison in more than three-fourths of the fisher carcasses tested. Not only do these marijuana farms rely on rat poison, they impact the ecosystem by diverting stream, putting species like endangered coho salmon at risk, biologists say.

Fishers are now a rare sight in Washington, Oregon and northwest California. In light of these threats, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service proposed Monday to list the West Coast fishers as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The additional protection comes as welcome news to conservation groups, some of which have been pushing for the change for more than a decade. "I'm elated that 14 years after we first tried to get these elusive animals protected, they're finally proposed for the Endangered Species Act protection they need to survive," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director of Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. "Now more than ever fishers need protection from old-growth forest logging, trapping and poisoning."