Restoration project brings endangered species back
Six fishers were released in the North Cascades earlier this month as part of an effort to restore the species to Washington State.
Fishers are about the size of a house cat and are members of the weasel family, related to wolverines and otters. They are native to the forests of Washington, but were eliminated in the state by the mid-1900s as a result of trapping and habitat loss.
Fishers are currently listed as an endangered species by the state, and are being reviewed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. As part of the restoration efforts, fishers have been released in recent years on the Olympic Peninsula and near Mount Rainer in the south Cascades.
The release of five females and one male on Dec. 5 was the first reintroduction of fishers in the North Cascades. The animals were set free in the Skagit River watershed of Ross Lake National Recreation Area, which is part of the North Cascades National Park Service Complex.
When the doors of their cages were opened, the dark-furred fishers darted out and raced through forest underbrush until they disappeared from sight.
The fishers released in the North Cascades were captured in Alberta, Canada, as part of a multi-year project to reintroduce approximately 80 fishers to the North Cascades. They underwent veterinary checkups at the Calgary Zoo and were equipped with radio transmitters to track their movements. Monitoring the fishers is supported by Conservation Northwest, which provides volunteers and remote cameras as part of its Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project.
From 2008 to 2010, 90 fishers were released in Olympic National Park, where the species is now widely distributed and successfully reproducing. In late 2015 and early 2016, 23 fishers were released in Washington’s southern Cascades in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. In late 2016 and early 2017, 46 fishers were released near the Gifford Pinchot forest and in Mount Rainier National Park.
Monitoring shows the released animals have successfully established themselves throughout the Olympic Peninsula and the Southern Cascades and have begun to reproduce.
Fishers thrive in older forests, like those on the Olympic Peninsula and the west slopes of the Cascades, said Chase Gunnell of Conservation Northwest. Release sites are selected for providing continuous old forest habitat. Based on observations of fishers released elsewhere in the state, many tend to stay within 10-15 miles of their release site, but others have ranged more widely, Gunnell said. “We could expect some of these animals [released in the North Cascades] to cross the Cascade crest” into the eastern side of the mountains, he said.
Fishers prey on small mammals — including mountain beavers, squirrels and snowshoe hares — and is one of the few predators of porcupines.
Representatives of the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe, the Lummi Indian Nation, and the Nooksack Indian Tribe attended the release and offered blessings and songs.
“We are excited to work with so many committed people to reintroduce fishers into another area where they have lived historically,” said Hannah Anderson, listing and recovery manager with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
“We’re thrilled to be a part of this historic reintroduction effort, and thankful to all the scientists, agencies and supporters who made it possible,” said Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest.
A voluntary fisher conservation program is available to private forest landowners and provides regulatory assurances should the species become listed as federally endangered. To date, 49 landowners have enrolled 2.98 million acres in fisher conservation.
Support and funding for fisher reintroduction comes from WDFW, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Conservation Northwest, National Park Service, Calgary Zoo, U.S. Forest Service, Washington National Park Fund, Northwest Trek, Pittman-Robertson Funds and State Wildlife Grants, and state personalized license plates.
The state recovery and implementation plan for fisher reintroduction in the Cascades is available on the WDFW website.