Pacific fisher photo courtesy of WDFW

Pacific fisher photo courtesy of WDFW

By Ann McCreary

The Pacific fisher, a native animal that has been absent from Washington state for decades, would be reintroduced in North Cascades and Mount Rainier national parks under a plan proposed by the National Park Service.

The public is invited to submit comments through Sept. 30 on the proposal to restore fishers to their former habitats in the North and South Cascades.

A member of the weasel family, fishers live in low-elevation and mid-elevation closed canopy forests containing large trees and logs.

The native fisher population was wiped out by heavy trapping for their pelts in the late 1800s and early 1900s, said Mason Reid, wildlife ecologist for Mount Rainier National Park. In addition, the fisher lost much of its native habitat to logging and development in the early part of the century.

Washington state game managers banned trapping of fishers in 1934, but extensive surveys conducted between 1990 and 2003 found no fishers in the state.

Considered extirpated (absent) from Washington since the mid-1990s, the Pacific fisher (Pekania pennanti) is the only native carnivore that is no longer found within the Cascade Range.

In 1998, the state listed the fisher as endangered, and in 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service included the west coast fisher as a federal candidate for listing as an endangered or threatened species.

To restore fishers to their historical range in Washington, Mount Rainier and North Cascades national parks are proposing to team up with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to reintroduce this species to the North and South Cascades – the last two of the three major ecosystems statewide where successful fisher reintroduction is needed in order to meet Washington state’s recovery goals for this species.

State wildlife managers and Olympic National Park staff successfully reintroduced fishers at Olympic National Park from 2008-2010.

“It is very exciting to partner with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Mount Rainier National Park to reintroduce the fisher to this area,” said Karen Taylor-Goodrich, superintendent of the North Cascades National Park Complex.

“Reintroducing any species, much less one as wild as the fisher, is a complex and dynamic process and requires the collaboration of landowners and managers across the landscape to be successful,” she said.

The plan to reintroduce fishers has two phases. During the first two years of the project, 80 fishers would be captured and transported from a source population in central British Columbia, and released in the North Cascades and Mount Rainier national parks.

The second phase would involve three-plus years of monitoring the relocated fishers via radio-satellite collars to understand their movements, survival, reproduction and establishment of home ranges.

The fisher is the fifth-largest member of the weasel family, weighing 8-12 pounds. They occur only in North America and need large live trees, snags, and downed logs for denning and rearing kits.

Fishers eat a variety of prey including snowshoe hares, mountain beavers, voles and porcupines.

Public comments may be submitted until Sept. 30 online at www.parkplanning.nps.gov/RestoreFisher or by post to North Cascades National Park Complex, 810 State Route 20, Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284.