Fisher peeking out of cage in the snow
A newly released fisher timidly checks out the situation before bounding into the forests of the Elwha Valley.

Ken and Mary Campbell

FisherMartes pennanti

After a long absence, reintroduction of the fisher to its native habitat in Olympic National Park signifies an important step in wildlife restoration. These members of the weasel family are related to minks, weasels, badgers, and otters. A thick, glossy coat of dark brown fur allows fishers to survive harsh winters. Their long, thin body, and short legs, like that of the weasel, makes them agile hunters, climbing trees and scurrying into burrows in pursuit of prey.

Fishers are native to the forests of Washington, including the Olympic Peninsula. They vanished from the state decades ago because of over-trapping in the late 1800s and early 1900s and habitat loss and fragmentation. Fishers have been recently reintroduced to the park in a three year project to reestablish the population. Over 30 fishers have now been released at various locations within the park.

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.

Despite their misleading name, fishers rarely prey upon fish. These carnivorous creatures feed mainly on snowshoe hares, as well as shrews, mice, squirrels, and birds.

Role in the Ecosystem:
As top predators, fishers help to balance the overall population of small mammals and birds such as mice, snowshoe hare, and porcupines. This helps keep any one population of those animals from becoming too numerous for the area. Therefore, the browsing of plant life in the area does not become overgrazed, which could lead to increased competition and lack of nutrient availability for other herbivores.

Fun Fact:
As agile and flexible as their other weasel cousins, fishers can contort their bodies to get into and out of tricky situations. They can even rotate their hind legs a full 180 degrees as they run through the forest in search of prey.

News Release - Jan 21, 2009 - Fourteen Fishers Released Yesterday in Olympic National Park

More info, including updates from the fisher monitoring program.


Last updated: November 4, 2021

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