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Fishers return to Washington’s Cascades

Nov 30, 2015

Conservation Northwest, WDFW and National Park Service partner to reintroduce native carnivores.

Fishers return to Washington’s Cascades

Fishers are small carnivores native to coniferous forests across North America. They were gone from Washington state, primarily due to over-trapping, by the mid-1900’s. Photo: Jeffrey Lewis / WDFW

WDFW, National Park Service, Conservation Northwest and partners reintroduce fishers into Cascades

Fishers are back! Get the latest in our news release.

We’re thrilled to announce that this week, fishers will return to Washington’s Cascade Mountains for the first time in over half a century! 

Fishers, sometimes called Pacific fishers on the West Coast, are housecat-sized members of the weasel family that feed on hares, porcupines, rodents and other small mammals in low- and mid-elevation coniferous forests. In part because of demand for their luxurious fur, fishers were trapped, shot and poisoned to extirpation (local extinction) in Washington by the 1930's. They are listed as a state endangered species in Washington.

Starting in 2002, Conservation Northwest partnered with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the National Park Service (NPS) and other state, federal and tribal allies to restore fishers to the Olympic Peninsula. Ninety fishers were reintroduced there over three years, and the population has since been confirmed to be reproducing successfully and dispersing across the peninsula.

Now, along with WDFW and Mount Rainier and North Cascades national parks, we are initiating the first year of a multi-year fisher reintroduction project on federal lands in Washington’s Cascades. Approximately 80 fishers will be released into the south and central Cascades from early December 2015 through February 2017. The releases will occur on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and in Mount Rainier National Park. Two to three years later, releases are planned to follow in the North Cascades in the North Cascades National Park Service Complex and in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. 

“Washington’s Cascades and Mount Rainier National Park in particular are icons of our region. We have a responsibility to do what we can to make these wild places whole once again with all their native wildlife,” said Mitch Friedman, Executive Director of Conservation Northwest. 

“With fishers returning to the Cascades, we’re restoring an important piece of the ecosystem and our shared natural heritage. That’s something all Washingtonians should be proud of.”

A female fisher ready for release.
A female fisher ready for release.

Thanks to our generous donors, Conservation Northwest helped kickstart this reintroduction effort with over $80,000 in funding. We also supported facilitation 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.

We are getting animals from British Columbia because they are closely related to fishers that were historically in the Cascades, and it’s a healthy population close to Washington. The fishers will be examined to make sure they’re healthy and disease-free, and they’ll be equipped with radio transmitters to help track the success of the restoration effort. Conservation Northwest will also be supporting this monitoring effort through our Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project

Reintroducing this native species helps restore the biodiversity of the Cascades ecosystem, making it healthier and more resilient. Reestablishing viable populations of fishers in the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges are also important steps to downlisting the species in Washington state (changing the status of the species in the state from endangered to threatened). 

“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 recent Associated Press article. Lewis also notes that fishers will be released “into the center of a lot of good habitat” to increase their chances for survival. 

Stay tuned for photos, video and other updates from the first fisher release this Thursday, December 3rd, 2015 near Mount Rainier National Park.  We’ll also share updates from subsequent releases. 

The Implementation Plan for Reintroducing Fishers to the Cascade Mountain Range in Washington is available at: http://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/01556/ and more information is available at: http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisher/

The official 2015 Cascades fisher reintroduction stakeholder briefing letter can be viewed at: http://www.conservationnw.org/what-we-do/wildlife-habitat/fisher-outreach-letter_final-mailing-version-10-28-15/.

Sources of funding for the reintroductions include the National Park Service, Conservation Northwest, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state wildlife grants, Washington state personalized license plates, Defenders of Wildlife and funds from other partner organizations.

Thank you to all the donors, members, partners and agencies that helped make this historic reintroduction happen!

An adult male fisher from central British Columbia ready for release into the Cascades. Photos: WDFW
An adult male fisher from central British Columbia ready for release into the Cascades. Photos: WDFW

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