Like springs unsprung the fishers bolted from their boxes and vanished into the forests of Olympic National Park's Elwha Valley, carrying hopes that they would reestablish one of the region's long-lost residents.
Cat-sized fishers are reclusive hunters and are related to mink, otter and marten. The mammals are native to the forests of Washington, including the Olympic Peninsula, but vanished from the state because of over-trapping in the late 1800s and early 1900s and habitat loss and fragmentation.
On Sunday 11 fishers were set free in the park. The species has been considered an endangered species by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission since 1998. Fishers were designated as a candidate for federal listing in 2004 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act.
“This is an exciting day, not only because we’ve returned fishers to Olympic National Park, but also because their return is the result of a long and productive partnership,” said Olympic National Park Acting Superintendent Sue McGill. “By working together, we’ve restored a species and created a brighter future for the park and generations yet to come.”
Restoration of fishers to Washington and Olympic National Park is the result of an alliance between federal and state agencies along with nonprofit partners. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Park Service are co-leading the project, while the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are instrumental partners in supporting both the transport of fishers from British Columbia and post-release monitoring. Olympic National Forest is also cooperating on the project.
“The reintroduction of the fisher is a significant step in preserving our wildlife heritage,” said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings. “I believe citizens of the state will be excited to learn that lost wildlife like the fisher can be reclaimed."
Non-profit partner Conservation Northwest has and continues to provide vital funding for the project, and Washington’s National Park Fund has pledged financial support for monitoring the proposed reintroduced fisher population.
"With fishers back home in the Olympic Peninsula, the magnificent old-growth ecosystem found here is now more complete," said Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest.
All 11 of the fishers released Sunday wore a tiny radio transmitter so biologists could track their movements and activities as the fishers settle in to their new habitat. Results of this monitoring will not only add to scientists’ understanding of fisher in the ecosystem, but will be used to refine and adjust future releases within the park.
Over the next three years, approximately 100 fishers will be released within Olympic National Park.