Federal, state, tribal and partner biologists released five fishers from Alberta, Canada, into the coastal forest near Lake Ozette on Nov. 5, the latest event in a nearly two decades-long project to restore the native species to Washington.
Fishers — a member of the weasel family roughly the size of a house cat that feeds on rodents, hares and even porcupines — were extirpated from Washington by the 1930s due to over-trapping, poisoning and fragmentation of their forest habitat.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey and the Conservation Northwest are cooperating to release the fisher species.
Ninety fishers were captured in northern British Columbia and reintroduced to Olympic National Park and surrounding areas on the Olympic National Forest from 2008 through 2010. Fishers from British Columbia and Alberta were reintroduced to inside and around Mount Rainier National Park beginning in 2015, and to North Cascades National Park, and nearby areas, beginning in 2018.
“Watching fishers return to the forests of the Olympic Peninsula is truly inspiring,” said Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum. “As they scamper through lush ferns and back into our biodiverse landscape, you can tell they belong here, and will enrich our natural heritage and support the overall health of this ecosystem.”
The Washington Fisher Reintroduction Project met its early 2020 goal of releasing more than 250 total fishers across the Olympic and Cascade ranges with successful reproduction. But project partners aimed to boost the numbers and genetic diversity of fishers on the Olympic Peninsula using animals live-trapped in Alberta.
Approximately 20 fishers are expected to be released in November and December at sites around Olympic National Forest.
“Fishers are vulnerable in Washington, and we are working creatively alongside partners to bring them back to their native range,” said Kelly Susewind, Fish and Wildlife Director. “Fisher restoration is a great example of our agency’s mission, and how partnership is the key to conservation success.”
Conservation Northwest worked with Canadian trappers to humanely acquire the fishers for release, which are then recorded, health-screened and temporarily housed by The Calgary Zoo before being transported to Washington.
“Fisher reintroduction has been a model collaboration; a public-private partnership that has grown to include local communities, Indigenous nations, forestry and others,” said Dave Werntz, Science and Conservation Director for Conservation Northwest.
“It’s inspiring to see more of these charismatic creatures returned to our state, and exciting to consider the possibilities that collaborative conservation holds for Washington’s natural heritage.”
Monitoring efforts show released animals have demonstrated signs of establishing themselves throughout the Olympic Peninsula and in the Cascade Mountains from near Mount Adams to Mount Baker, and that they have begun to reproduce.
While listed as an endangered species by the state, Washington’s fisher population was not listed under the federal Endangered Species Act during a recent status review due to the progress of ongoing reintroduction efforts.
Reestablishing viable populations of fishers in the Olympic and Cascade Mountains are important steps to delisting the species in Washington. The state recovery plan and implementation plan for fisher reintroduction in the Cascades can be found at: wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisher/reintroduction_cascades.html.
A voluntary fisher conservation program (wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/species/pekania-pennanti#conservation) is available to private forest landowners that provides regulatory assurances should the species become listed. To date, more than 60 landowners have enrolled 3.32 million acres in fisher conservation.