More Fishers Soon To Be On the Loose in Olympic National Park

The fisher population in Olympic National Park is set to grow this weekend with the release of another 15 or so of the mammals.

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.

Comments

First of all, it does seem like a very good idea, to focus on species-reintroductions that are less controversial & polarizing. The fisher is being used in this way in many places across the U.S.A, and it's a good thing.

There are some potential issues and even risks with this project, though. See Feasibility Assessment for Reintroducing Fishers to Washington September 2004, by Washington State Fish & Game, for additional details.

Ecologically & biologically, the Olympic Peninsula has a small population of marten, which are very much a smaller version of the fisher. Both are upland & forest weasels, and dry-ground, semi-arboreal versions of the mink. The range of fisher & marten does overlap in some regions, but in other regions only one species is present. It seems that the risk to marten got a fairly easy 'pass' in this project, and certainly it is not publicized that a potentially unfortunate conflict exists.

From here, the issues become less certain, but no less potentially problematic.

First in this category of considerations is the role of trapping in the demise of Olympic Peninsula populations of fisher. Although trapping took place in the Olympic Mountains (now the Park), this is extremely inhospitable trapping-country. Trapping was mainly a low-land occupation on the Peninsula. The interior regions of the mountain range were entirely "terra incognito", until the 1890s. Penetration thereafter was generally slow & light (that's why it's a Park today..). The terrain is a great barrier to the sorts of 'blanket coverage' or 'saturation' trapping-patterns that generally lead to severe reductions of fur bearers. There are very generous swaths of the mountains that will & did serve as 'reservoirs' or 'refugia' within which target-animals had protection, and from which they could later rebound and repopulate over-worked adjoining districts.

Let me emphasize the terrain-consideration: Although the Rockies and others are higher & grander than the Olympics, there are few features on Earth that approach the sheer ruggedness of the Olympics. You have to go places like The Grand Canyon and the worst of the dissected Andies to find such impediments to entry & travel, as exist in the Olympic massif. Without the installed trail-system, entry into the Olympics would be a world-class and extremely unusual adventure.

I - and others with experience in this country - will find it highly unlikely that the Olympic Mountains fisher were "trapped out". Furthermore, habitat was not significantly disrupted within the mountains either. Habitat was heavily altered in the low-country, but not in the high Olympic country, which is now Park.

It may be too snowy to support high-country fisher in the Olympics, especially during the colder swings of the climate ... which we may well be watching take place today. Fisher found in the high country, may be on summer outings from the low-country. It could be a slight embarrassment, if the introduced animals soon prove to like the lower country outside the Park better. Slightly worse, this is also where the remnant population of marten are also most likely to reside.

Inaccurate assumptions about the cause of the original extirpation of Olympic fisher could result in the introduced population simply suffering the same fate.

That one of the introduced fisher was found killed by a bobcat in the Elwah Valley is an immediate Ah-ha! Many do not realize the extent to which the Olympic Peninsula is 'cat-country'. It is more than passably possible that the more-important reason for the downfall of fisher, was the increase in cats brought on by the opening up of the low-lands and timberlands, which causes 'explosions' of prey-species. The cats then multiply, supported by the increased food-supply. With a higher density of cats, the fisher (and wolves & coyotes, etc) could not avoid their natural enemies as well as before, and declined or vanished.

That one of the fisher was road-killed near Forks suggests that they are already leaving the high country of the Olympic National Park where they were introduced, and taking to the low-lands outside the Park (the Elwah animal suggests this too). While it doesn't seem like the fisher will come into direct conflict with the humans who live in the low-country, for the species to abandon the habitat that the project-designers placed them in calls into question the planning of the project, etc.

State and federal biologists have recorded the first fisher family native-born to Washington since their return to the forests after nearly 80 years. Weeks ago, researchers spotted the female, thought to be pregnant, at a big old snag heavily marked with cavities created by pileated woodpeckers, important den sites for fishers. Remote camera images taken at the snag show a mother fisher carrying her litter of four kits, one at a time, from the den tree in the Elwha. Females commonly move their young to new dens, biologists say, as the kits become more mobile.

"...adventure without regard to prudence, profit, self-improvement,
learning or any other serious thing" -Aldo Leopold-

Many species have adapted to increase human population by feeding off them. Boulder is a prime example with explosion of deer and subsequent cougars that eat deer and pets.

Perhaps the fisher was less adaptable to the highlands and now had moved toward the lolands for easier food.Also increase predators bobcats and cougar which have adapted to near human areas will hunt the fisher.

I would like the fisher , martens and minks to be reintroduced in the east coast. The climate may be better and the reforestation in Vermont and NH would support these animals. Plus the is a reduce amount of predators such as bobcat and cougarson the east coast.

I appreciate Ted's comment which is well thought out and I hpe the groups that plan these introductions take these factors in account.