Reintroducing a Northwest native
December 5, 2018: Fishers Released in North Cascades; Elusive Carnivores Once Considered Extinct in Washington State
In 2002, we began a partnership with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the National Park Service (NPS) and other federal, tribal and non-profit allies to restore fishers to Washington state. Since then, we’ve successfully reintroduced fishers to the Olympic Peninsula and Washington’s South, Central and North Cascades!
Thanks to our generous donors, Conservation Northwest helped kickstart this collaborative reintroduction effort by initially funding a feasibility study to determine the best strategy to restore these amazing animals to our state. We also helped inform a state recovery plan that was written for the fisher in Washington, outlining recovery objectives and strategies to restore the species. Both a previous fisher status review and the new recovery plan identified the need for fisher reintroductions because there were no existing fisher populations close enough to repopulate Washington.
Advocacy from our staff, members and activists then helped show decision-makers that there is strong public support among Washingtonians for restoring this native species!
With funding from our organization and from state, federal, non-profit and other sources, fishers were live-captured in central British Columbia for release into Washington beginning in 2008. Our staff and connections in British Columbia (and later Alberta) were particularly instrumental in acquiring these fishers.
News on fishers
- September 2019: Fisher reintroduction annual report released
- August 2019: Paper published on Washington fisher reintroduction
- June 2019: A Tale of Three Weasels, Earth Island Journal
- May 2019: Fishers have returned to western Washington. Are the Selkirks next?, The Spokesman Review
- February 2019: More fishers released in North Cascades, The Skagit Valley Herald
- January 2019: Statement on rerelease of West Coast fisher listing proposal
- December 2018: Porcupines and hares beware! Weasel-like fishers return to North Cascades, KUOW
- December 2018: Fishers Released in North Cascades; Elusive Carnivores Once Considered Extinct in Washington State
- June 2017: Trail cameras show first evidence of fishers born in the South Cascades
- May 2017: Fishers continue scampering back into Washington
- December 2016: Fisher photographed through wildlife monitoring project
- December 2016: Fishers reintroduced at Mount Rainier National Park
- November 2015: Fishers return to Washington’s Cascades
Fisher reintroductions begin
Starting in 2008, 90 fishers were reintroduced over three years to Olympic National Park and surrounding Olympic National Forest lands. This fisher population has since been confirmed to be reproducing successfully and dispersing across the Olympic Peninsula. Approximately 120 fishers are believed to reside on the Olympic Peninsula as of 2017.
In late 2015, the first phase of a multi-year fisher reintroduction project began on federal lands in Washington’s Cascades. Approximately 80 fishers were released into our state’s south and central Cascades from December 2015 through February 2017. The releases occurred on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mount Rainier National Park. Since then, fisher reproduction has been documented in the South Cascades, and individual animals have been confirmed roaming as far north as I-90 and as far south as Mount Adams.
While fisher reintroductions into the North Cascades, including Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and the North Cascades National Park Service Complex, were delayed in 2017 due to severe fires near our fisher source area in British Columbia, we were able to successfully release fishers here during the following year.
The return of fishers to Washington is an example of a successful and innovative public-private partnership to restore and conserve our region’s native wildlife!
Funding for fisher reintroduction comes by way of generous support from Conservation Northwest donors, the NPS, State Wildlife Grants, WDFW, Washington state non-game personalized license plates, Washington’s National Park Fund, 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/.
Conservation Northwest is also supporting fisher monitoring efforts through our Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project to help track and evaluate the fisher’s return.
Fishers (martes pennanti), 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 1900s. 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 1930s, 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.
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.
Re-establishing viable populations of fishers in the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges are also important steps toward 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.
More fisher facts
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.