Blog Post David Graves Sep 4, 2013

The Fisher Kingdom

The Pacific fisher once roamed the forests of the northwestern United States, building dens and raising kits among the old-growth forests of the Cascade Mountains. Now, after decades of trapping and logging, the animals are all but gone from Washington State.

Last month, the Park Service proposed a new program to bring more of these native animals back to Mount Rainier and Northern Cascades National Parks—and they are looking for public comments on whether to proceed.

Sometimes referred to as “fisher cats,” these animals are not actually fishers or cats. The slinky eight- to ten-pound mammals look somewhat feline, but are more closely related to otters, martens, and minks. And they don’t eat fish, as far as people have observed, though they are deft hunters that feed on a number of land animals and plants—and one of the few predators that routinely take down porcupines.

The fisher’s name and habits may be a bit unusual, but its story of decline, sadly, is not. Trappers in Washington killed fishers for their soft, glossy pelts from the late 1800s until the state banned the practice in 1934. Unfortunately, by then, overhunting had decimated their populations. Fishers are also very particular about their habitat, preferring forests with thick tree cover. Extensive logging in the Pacific Northwest greatly reduced appropriate denning sites for these tree-lovers. Add to this the fact that fishers are especially susceptible to falling into other kinds of animal traps, and even the ban on selling their pelts couldn’t save them. Researchers conducted extensive searches in Washington between 1990 and 2003 and did not find a single fisher anywhere in the state.

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Though the animal’s population has rebounded in many other parts of the country, they are extremely rare in Washington. Park Service officials successfully reintroduced about 90 fishers at Olympic National Park between 2008 and 2010, but these are currently the only ones of their kind in the state. The Park Service proposal for Mount Rainier and North Cascades is a new opportunity to bring these fascinating creatures back to one of their traditional habitats. The first stage of the program would involve releasing about 80 fishers into the two national parks over the course of two years. Then, researchers would monitor the animals using radio-satellite collars to understand their habits better and work to protect their populations.

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