Earlier this year a fisher recovery program got under way in Olympic National Park with the release of 18 of the furry mammals that are kin to weasels. This weekend another 15 or so will be set free to set up home in the park.
Park officials say the fishers will be set free at remote sites within Olympic's Elwha, Sol Duc and Hoh valleys, adding to the fisher population that was kindled last winter. The goal is to plant an initial population of 100 animals in the park.
Fishers are about the size of a cat and are members of the weasel family, related to minks, otters and martens. Eighteen of the animals, each fitted with a tiny radio transmitter, were released in Olympic last January and March. Of the 18, only three are known to have died.
“We’re very pleased at how well the fishers have survived – an 81 percent survival rate is quite high and is very encouraging as we begin year two of this project,” said Olympic National Park Superintendent Karen Gustin.
Biologists from the U.S. Geological Survey, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Olympic National Park are still monitoring 13 of the reintroduced animals. Three of the fishers released last winter have died, and radio transmitters on two others no longer function. Scientists analyzed two of the carcasses, learning that one animal was killed by a bobcat in the Elwha Valley while the other was run over by a vehicle while crossing Highway 101 near Forks. The third animal died in a remote area of the park and has not been recovered.
Fishers are native to the forests of Washington, including the Olympic Peninsula, but vanished from the state decades ago because of over-trapping in the late 1800s and early 1900s and habitat loss and fragmentation. Fishers were listed as a state endangered species in 1998 by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission and were designated as a candidate for federal listing in 2004 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act.
Fisher reintroduction to Olympic National Park is made possible through a partnership of agencies and organizations. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Olympic National Park are joint project managers and, along with the U.S. Geological Survey, are leading a research and monitoring program to evaluate the success of the reintroduction.
“It’s gratifying to help lead this important cooperative effort and to see these encouraging results,” said Dave Brittell, assistant director for WDFW’s wildlife program. “As the project goes on, we look forward to establishing a thriving fisher population in Washington State.”
The British Columbia Ministry of Environment is actively supporting the effort to capture and import fishers to Washington.
Non-profit partner Conservation Northwest provides financial and administrative support for the project’s operations in British Columbia while Washington’s National Park Fund is providing financial support for monitoring the reintroduced fisher population. Other partners and organizations are providing financial or logistical support for management and research tasks.
“What a great holiday gift to Olympic National Park and the people of Washington,” said Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest. “Fifteen furry fishers in an old-growth tree.”
The fishers to be released this weekend will also wear radio transmitters, allowing biologists to track their movements and activities and adding to scientists’ understanding of the fisher’s role in the ecosystem.
"We are excited to work with the National Park Service and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to evaluate this landmark project, said Kurt Jenkins, USGS Research Wildlife Biologist. “Better understanding of fisher restoration in Olympic National Park promises to be widely useful to future restoration programs within the species’ range.”
More information, including monthly updates from the monitoring effort, is available online at this site.