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Weasel-like fishers make a comeback in Olympic National Park

By Lynda V. Mapes
Peninsula Daily News

Lynda V. Mapes of the Seattle Times writes about a confirmed litter of four fisher kits in the Olympic National Park, a sign that the reintroduced animal once believed to be extinct in Washington is thriving.

Weasel-like fishers make a comeback in Olympic National Park

A fisher carrying her kit

Olympic National Park wildlife experts have announced the first confirmed siting of young born to a female fisher reintroduced to the park as part of an ongoing effort to rebuild populations of the animal, believed to be extinct in Washington for more than 80 years.

Photographs taken in the Elwha River Valley on May 23 by a remote camera captured images of Female Number Seven, her unromantic handle, with a litter of four kits.

It's a spectacular achievement for an animal that usually has litters only half that large, and who was relocated all the way from her original home range in central British Columbia the previous winter.

The confirmed birth marks the critical third and final indicator for a reintroduced animal: It has survived the move; it has established a home range, and now, reproduced. "This is great," a clearly delighted Patti Happe, chief of the wildlife branch for Olympic National Park, said today.

The state closed the trapping season for fishers in the 1930s. The weasel-like carnivore has a luxuriant pelt that used to fetch as much as $100 each for trappers. The animals were over-trapped, and habitat fragmentation took a toll, leading to the extinction of the animal decades ago.

The Park Service, along with other partners, began the relocation effort to re-establish viable populations of fishers in the park in 2008, with the move of 18 fishers from central British Columbia. A second introduction of 31 more animals was made this winter. So far, an estimated 12 animals are deceased, including three documented killed on US 101, and one killed by a bobcat.

That's a pretty good overall survival rate, Happe said, and the confirmed birth, especially of such a large litter, is encouraging.

"She must be in very good shape to have four kits," Happe said.

Next year more animals will be introduced, to reach a total population of 100 relocated animals.

Fishers are thriving in a wider diversity of habitats, and on a wider diet than biologists hoped. Radio-collared fishers are being tracked everywhere, from Neah Bay, to the Elwha Valley, and as far south as Ocean Shores. They seem to be eating everything from mice to birds; scat is being gathered to determine more about their diet.

Female Number Seven is denning in a large snag not far from where she was first released, near Antelope Creek in the Elwha Valley on January 27th, 2008. The photographs show her carrying four kits, one at a time. Females often use several den sites, moving the kits to dens closer to the ground as the young become larger and more mobile.

Fishers are native to Washington. Re-establishing them in their homeland helps restore the park to more of a fully functioning, native ecosystem. The last vertebrate species missing from the park's native suite of life is the wolf. No plans for reintroduction are in the works at this time.

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or lmapes@seattletimes.com

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