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A small native carnivore, smaller cousin the the wolverine, the Pacific fisher is an important member of older forests in the Pacific Northwest.

Martes pennanti

Fishers have been reintroduced to Washington’s Cascades! Learn more

Fisher. John Jacobson/WDFW
Fisher. John Jacobson/WDFW

Pacific fishers, related to the smaller pine martens and larger wolverines, are the second largest terrestrial North American mustelid or member of the weasel family.

Throughout northern North America in the 1800s and 1900s, fishers, with fur as luxurious as mink, were heavily trapped. Extensive logging of the Northwest's old-growth forest spelled loss of the fishers' favored habitat: deep forests of large trees, standing snags, and downed logs. By the 1930s, this small forest mammal, about the size of a house cat, had vanished from Washington's forests.

What we're doing

Starting in 2008, Conservation Northwest partnered with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the National Park Service (NPS) and others 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.

We’re thrilled to announce that in December 2015, fishers were returned to Washington’s Cascade Mountains for the first time in over half a century!  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. Learn more.

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.

The return of fishers is an example of a successful and innovative partnership of public and private efforts to protect and preserve Washington's native wildlife.

Funding for fisher reintroduction comes by way of generous support from Conservation Nothwest donors, the National Park Service, State Wildlife Grants, State Non-game Personalized License Plates, USFWS, a grant provided by the Wildlife Conservation Society from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, a contribution from Defenders of Wildlife, and other partners.

More about fishers

  • Like most species in the weasel family, fishers (Martes pennanti) are successful hunters, curious and intelligent.
  • Even in areas where they are relatively abundant, fishers are secretive and rarely seen.
  • Fishers favor older forests with high canopy cover, and mature and old-growth forests. They rest, nest, and take cover in downed wood, high cavities in dead tree snags, and clumps of tree branches.
  • Fishers are carnivores, hunting and eating small mammals like mountain beavers. Like other carnivores, they also relish carrion, a lot less work! Fishers are the only forest carnivore known to hunt porcupine with regular success–no small feat. (Cougars are known to eat porcupines, but not often.)
  • Fishers range across North America where they haven't been wiped out locally. People have named them many things, including black cat, fisher cat, pekan, pequam, wejack, and woods-otter.
  • Fishers are creatures of the forests, not water, and their favorite foods are small mammals, not fish. Their unusual common name is thought to come from the French word fichet, for the pelt of a European polecat. It may also have originated from trappers who used fish as bait to catch fishers.
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