Final Batch of Fishers to Be Freed in Olympic National Park
Three years have passed since Washington state and Olympic National Park officials embarked down the road of fisher recovery in the national park. On Saturday, the final batch of these weasel-like predators were to be set free into the park's backcountry.
Biologists planned to release 13 fishers into the Elwha and Quinault valleys of the park, bringing the total of reintroduced animals to 90. Seven males and six females were to be set free.
"As we complete the reintroduction phase of this project, we celebrate the many partners who have and will continue to make fisher restoration possible," said Olympic Superintendent Karen Gustin. "Together we’ve come very close to reaching the original goal of releasing 100 fishers in the park, and together we will continue to monitor the animals and track project success."
Each released animal wears a small radio transmitter, allowing biologists to track and monitor its movements. Biologists continue to monitor 49 fishers released over the past three winters. With the discovery of three fisher birthing dens last summer, biologists determined that three females gave birth to at least seven kits. Other females may also have had young, but locating and verifying fisher dens is extremely difficult and time-consuming in the Olympic wilderness.
"We are excited to see this last group of fishers released into Olympic National Park," said Kurt Jenkins, research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "We look forward to continue working with Olympic National Park and the State of Washington to monitor survival and home range establishment of the released animals. With the release phase of the project ending, we will now focus on working with our partners to develop methods to monitor the reintroduction success over the long term."
Fishers are about the size of a cat and are members of the weasel family, related to minks, otters and martens. They 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 the result of a partnership of agencies and organizations. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Olympic National Park are joint project managers and, along with the U.S. Geological Survey, are leading the research and monitoring program to evaluate the success of the reintroduction. The British Columbia Ministry of Environment is actively supporting the effort to capture and import fishers to Washington.
The goal of the three-year project was to release approximately 100 fishers to the Olympic Peninsula to re-establish a self-sustaining population. Seventy-seven fishers have been released so far, in addition to the thirteen to be released tomorrow. Biologists have maintained frequent monitoring of the fisher’s radio collar signals and are continuing to track 49 animals. Despite extensive searching, the whereabouts of six fishers is unknown. Two animals’ radio signals have failed, 16 animals are known to have died and four are presumed to be dead.
"With this last group of fishers, we’re very close to our target of releasing 100 on the Peninsula," said Dave Brittell, assistant director of the WDFW wildlife program. "It’s great to watch these animals blend back into the forests of the Olympic Peninsula and we appreciate collaborating with a great group of people from a number of organizations to accomplish this work."
Non-profit partner Conservation Northwest provides financial and administrative support for the project’s operations in British Columbia and coordinates volunteers who track fisher activity through remote camera stations. Washington’s National Park Fund provides financial support for monitoring the reintroduced fisher population. Other partners and organizations are providing financial or logistical support for management and research tasks.
"This final release culminates a decade of cooperative effort to restore fisher to Washington State," said Dave Werntz, conservation director at Conservation Northwest, "and gives me a sense of what Shaun White felt after landing his spiraling Double McTwist 1260."
Fisher reintroduction to Olympic National Park was examined in an environmental assessment released in September 2007. Nearly 200 comments were received and a Finding of No Significant Impact was signed in November 2007, paving the way for fisher restoration.