Washington Fisher Restoration

A weasel-like mammal runs out of a wood box into snow as people with cameras watch.
A fisher being released at Mount Rainier National Park.

NPS/Kevin Bacher

A medium sized weasel-like mammal with brown fur, small round ears, and pointed nose.
Fisher

John Jacobson, WDFW

Fishers in Washington
The fisher (Pekania pennanti) is a medium sized carnivore belonging to the weasel family. Known for their skillful and ferocious hunting, fishers are the only animal able to effectively predate porcupines. In the food web, they are secondary consumers and therefore prey on small animals like snowshoe hare and mountain beaver, while larger carnivores prey upon them. These forest dwelling mammals depend upon old growth forests to access sufficient resting and denning trees that are crucial for their survival and reproduction.

Fishers are comparable in size to a large house cat and have a distinct long bushy tail, short round ears and unique white patches on their chests. Fishers’ bodies appear low to the ground and they move with a bounding gate.

If you see a fisher, please contact us to provide information on your observation. Your help is greatly appreciated!
A fisher bounds out of a wooden box while children and people watch.
A fisher being released at Cispus Learning Center near Mount Rainier National Park.

Paul Bannick, Conservation Northwest

Reintroduction
Historically a common species in Washington, fishers were over-trapped to extinction due to their highly valuable fur. Even after decades of absence from the ecosystem, fisher habitat and their prey base remains intact and abundant, making them exceptional candidates for a population restoration project. Washington is now actively restoring the fisher population by translocating fishers from healthy populations in British Columbia to the evergreen state’s landscape. In the first phase of this state-wide project, the Olympic Peninsula released 90 fishers to establish a population there. After its success, we translocated 81 fishers to the Southern Cascades and 85 fishers to the North Cascades.

A weasel-like animal leaps out of a wooden crate.
A fisher released in the North Cascades on December 5, 2018.

Paul Bannick, Conservation Northwest

The success of this project is due to the collaboration and participation of many project partners including the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Conservation Northwest, Calgary Zoo, Northwest Trek, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, expert trappers, and many others.

A small plane with a green stripe.
A fixed-wing aircraft used to search for fisher transmitter signals.

NPS/Elissa Gordon

Monitoring
To monitor fisher survival and movements after they are released, veterinarians outfit the animals with radio transmitters. Project biologists fly in a fixed-wing aircraft, listening for unique signals that each fisher sends out through their implanted transmitter. Tracking movements of each animal is an exciting process and allows scientists to discover important information about these forest carnivores like the habitats they are using and which individuals are near each other during the breeding season. When an individual dies, the signal from the transmitter changes so project biologists know to go out and locate the animal on the ground. Veterinarians can then perform a necropsy (animal autopsy) to examine its health and determine the cause of death. When fishers are killed by other predators, it is often because they lost a battle with a mountain lion or bobcat. If the fisher is female, veterinarians can also determine if she has had a litter of kits.

Long-term monitoring will begin once the founding fishers have been on the landscape for a few years, long enough to produce several generations. Scientists will use camera 'traps' and hair snares to collect genetic samples. The results of the genetic tests will tell us if enough fishers are reproducing enough to establish a self-sustaining population or if we need to augment the populations with additional fishers.

Cascade Fisher Reintroduction Project Video
Cascades Fisher Reintroduction Project Progress Report for December 2015 to March 2017

Stay tuned to see what else project scientists discover during these fisher location flights and follow the link for more information on fishers in Washington and other fisher restoration project updates! http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisher/
Hosted by Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife.

Last updated: January 21, 2020