It’s been more than 70 years since anyone saw the weasel-like fisher in Washington’s south Cascades.
But on Thursday, wildlife officials introduced seven of these elusive carnivores into the woods of Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Jeff Lewis recruited several children to help release the fishers from wooden kennels.
It didn’t take long for the furry, cat-sized mammals to make a run for the woods, away from a gathering of about 50 people who came to watch and photograph the event.
Fishers were eliminated from Washington by the mid-1950s through over-trapping. They prey on various small mammals, including mountain beavers, squirrels and snowshoe hares. They’re also one of the few predators of porcupines.
”If the mountains and forests here could talk, they would say ‘Welcome back fisher. We missed you,’” said Mitch Friedman, director of Conservation Northwest. “If the porcupines could talk, they’d probably say “Run!”
Friedman’s group spent more than $80,000 to help bring fishers back to Washington state. Some of the group’s funds are going to professional trappers in British Columbia, where the fisher population is still healthy open to lethal trapping.
“We’re paying the trappers substantially more for a healthy, live fisher as compared to the pelt price,” said North Cascades National Park biologist Jason Ransom.
Ransom said fishers have claws that allow them to climb quickly up and down trees.
“They look very much like their cousin the wolverine,” he said. “You might think of them as tree wolverines.”
They have long canine teeth that make them very effective predators, but they’re also prey for bigger mammals.
“They’re the carnivore that’s in the middle,” he said. “Cougars and bobcats prey on them quite heavily. We hope not soon.”
Genetic testing showed the Canadian fishers are similar to the fishers that used to live in the Pacific Northwest.
The fishers released Thursday are carrying surgically installed tracking devices that will allow wildlife officials to monitor them from airplanes.
Officials have already released 90 fishers from B.C. into the Olympic Peninsula. They plan to release a total of 80 fishers into the south Cascades over the next few years. Then, they’ll introduce 80 more fishers into the north Cascades.
Story by Cassandra Profita, OPB/EarthFix. Video and photography by Ken Christensen, KCTS9/EarthFix.