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Fisher

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

Fishers, related to the smaller pine marten and larger wolverine, 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! 

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 California and southern Oregon, as well as in Canada, the Great Lakes region, and northernmost New England.

Why fishers are important

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.

Reestablishing viable populations of fishers in the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges are also important steps towards downlisting the species in Washington state (changing the status of the species in the state from endangered to threatened) and ensuring that it does not warrant federal endangered species status.

“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

What we're doing

In 2002, we began a partnership 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 Washington state. Thanks to our generous donors, Conservation Northwest helped kickstart this reintroduction effort through our financial support, including funding a feasibility study to determine how best to restore these amazing animals to our state.

We also helped inform a recovery plan that was written for the fisher in Washington, outlining recovery objectives and strategies to restore the species to the state. Both a previous fisher status review and the new recovery plan identified the need for fisher reintroductions to restore the species in the state because there were no existing fisher populations close enough to repopulate Washington. Advocacy from our staff, members and activists helped show that there was strong public support among Washingtonians for restoring this missing native species.

With our funding and that from state, federal and other sources, and facilitation and technical support from our conservation staff in Washington and Canada, fishers were live captured in central British Columbia for release into Washington. We chose British Columbia because fisher populations there are relatively healthy, and genetic testing has shown that the fishers there are closely related to fishers that were historically present in Washington.  

Fisher reintroductions begin

Starting in 2008, ninety fishers were reintroduced over three years to Olympic National Park and surrounding national forest lands. The fisher population has since been confirmed to be reproducing successfully and dispersing across the Olympic Peninsula. Over 100 fishers are believed to reside on the Olympic Peninsula as of 2016.

In late 2015, the first phase of a multi-year fisher reintroduction project began on federal lands in Washington’s Cascades. Approximately 80 fishers will be released into the state's south and central Cascades from 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 (likely beginning in late 2017), releases are planned to follow in the North Cascades in North Cascades National Park Service Complex and in  Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. 

Conservation Northwest will also be supporting fisher monitoring efforts through our Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project to help track and evaluate the fisher's return.

More fisher information

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, 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 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/.

More about fishers

  • Like most species in the weasel family, fishers (Martes pennanti) are successful hunters, curious and intelligent. And they are excellent tree climbers.
  • Fishers have important cultural values for some Native American and First Nations cultures.
  • 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 one of the only forest carnivores known to hunt porcupines–no small feat.
  • 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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