Reintroduced fishers photographed in the Cascades
Conservation Northwest / Oct 04, 2016 / Fishers
Next phase of our restoration project will begin this November in Mount Rainier National Park
During the fall and winter of 2015-16, we partnered with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and National Park Service in a historic effort to reintroduce fishers to Washington’s Cascade Mountains.
Now, these amazing members of the weasel family are showing up on remote camera stations established by scientists studying their recovery in our state!
Several fishers were documented this summer in areas of Gifford Pinchot National Forest around Cispus Learning Center where they were released. In one case, a fisher traveled more than 30 miles south from the original reintroduction site and was photographed in a wilderness area west of Mount Adams.
We are thrilled to see these fishers making themselves at home in the lush habitat of Washington’s South Cascades. Some fisher mortality is expected as these animals adapt to their new home and encounter other predators such as cougars. But we’re hopeful that through natural reproduction and further reintroductions, this effort will kick-start the long-term recovery of this important species throughout the Cascades.
We’ve also begun preparing for the next phase of this reintroduction project, which will begin this November as more fishers are live captured in central British Columbia and reintroduced in and around Mount Rainier National Park.
Efforts in late 2015 and early 2016 were only the first phase of a multi-year fisher reintroduction project on federal lands in Washington’s Cascades. Approximately 80 fishers will be released into the state’s South Cascades between December 2015 and February 2017. The releases will occur on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and in Mount Rainier National Park. If necessary due to availability of fishers in British Columbia, the South Cascades efforts may be extended. In the fall of 2017, a second two-year phase of fisher releases is planned in North Cascades National Park Service Complex and in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
This work follows a similar successful effort on the Olympic Peninsula. Starting in 2002, Conservation Northwest partnered with WDFW, the National Park Service and other allies to study fisher reintroduction and restore fishers to the Olympic Peninsula. Beginning in 2008, 90 fishers were reintroduced there over three years, and the population has since been confirmed to be reproducing successfully and dispersing across the peninsula.
Thanks to our generous donors, Conservation Northwest helped initiate this reintroduction effort through our financial support, including funding a feasibility study to determine how and where to best restore these amazing animals to our state. We also supported coordination with First Nations as well as provided staff and technical support in Washington and British Columbia, where fishers are being live-captured for release into Washington’s Cascades.
Fishers roamed low- and mid-elevation forests throughout northern North America from coast to coast until the early 1900’s. With thick, luxurious fur, fishers were heavily trapped, shot and poisoned. Extensive logging of the Northwest’s old-growth forests depleted much of the fishers’ favored habitat: deep forests of large trees, standing snags, lush ferns, and lots of downed logs.
By the 1930’s, this small forest mammal, about the size of a large house cat, had vanished from Washington state. Remnant fisher populations remained in northern California and southern Oregon, as well as in Canada, the Great Lakes region, and northernmost New England.
Relatives of the smaller pine marten and larger wolverine, fishers are the second largest North American terrestrial member of the mustelid or weasel family. They are sometimes referred to as “tree wolverines” because of their amazing climbing skills and tenacious nature. They’re one of few creatures who will happily make a meal out of a porcupine!
Reintroducing this native species helps restore the biodiversity of the Cascades ecosystem, making it healthier and more resilient. Fishers can also play an important role in maintaining forest and timber health by controlling populations of porcupines and other rodents.
“We have a chance to correct a thing that we didn’t manage correctly a long time ago. We can restore a species,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a WDFW biologist in a 2015 Associated Press article.
Funding for fisher reintroduction comes by way of generous support from Conservation Northwest donors, the National Park Service, State Wildlife Grants, State Non-game Personalized License Plates, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a grant provided by the Wildlife Conservation Society from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, a contribution from Defenders of Wildlife, and other partners.
The Implementation Plan for Reintroducing Fishers to the Cascade Mountain Range in Washingtonis available at: http://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/01556/ and additional information is available at: http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisher/ and www.conservationnw.org/fisher.
Stay tuned for more updates this fall as our fisher reintroduction program moves forward!