Fishers Return to their Ancestorial Homes

Not a creature was stirring, except for the 40 or so fishers being reintroduced to the former habitat in Olympic National Park.,

Fishers, a small predatory mammal, rarely eats fish. These close cousins of martens and weasels are mostly nocturnal hunters of any small critters, including birds and occasionally fish, that live in the forest. Fishers are about the size of large housecats and are natives to the Olympics and Western Cascades. Fishers were valued for their thick, soft pelts so much that  over trapping in the mid to  late 1800s and rampant habitat loss through the first half of the 20th century led to their extinction in Washington.

Fishers were listed as a state-endangered species in 1998 by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission and were designated as a candidate for federal listing in 2004 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act.

One of the new Olympic National Park colonists. Photo by ONP.

As part of a recovery plan developed in the early 2000s, about 45 fishers will be released starting next week in the third and final year of reintroduction of the species to the North Olympic Peninsula. The released fishers were captured in northern British Columbia. The capture and release program is part of in intensive recovery plan involving multiple agencies and public parties. The coalition of parties includes:

The first release of fishers occured two years ago, in December 2007, and the second took place last December.  During each release event, the individual animals are each fitted with a small radio transmitter so biologists may track and monitor their movements.  Of the  49 fishers released in the last two years, only 22 are still monitored.  Only 15 of the missing fishes are confirmed dead. Others have somehow ditched their transmitters and other radios may have simply stopped working.

Despite the loss of monitoring opportunites for more than half the fishers, there are signs of hope for a population recovery. Biologists did find three birthing dens last summer with several kits in them.  The goal of the three-year reintroduction program is to create a sustainable population of  100 or more fishers.

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