On January 27, 2008, a fisher ran on Washington soil for the first time in decades. Park biologists released Fisher F006* into the Elwha Valley from the Altair Campground after transplanting her from her birthplace in British Columbia. She was outfitted with a radio collar, and for the next 2.5 years we collected a great deal of data about her journeys around the park. We know that she survived to at least six years of age, as she was spotted on camera in June, 2014. Look at map to the right to see F006’s tracked movements; she explored all across the park! As you can see, she also moved into Forest Service land to the east of the park. Having suitable forest habitat, regardless of whether the National Park Service or another agency manages it, is beneficial in that it provides more opportunities for fishers to roam and hunt.
*About the naming of the animals: Each founding fisher (the first 90 that were translocated) was given an designation of "M" for male or "F" for female, plus the order in which they were caught. Following generations are designated by the bar code number from their genetic sample, plus M or F.
The Next Generation Arrives: F007
F007 arrived in the Elwha Valley of Olympic National Park in January 2008 after being captured by trappers in British Columbia. After exploring the northeast section of the park for a year, F007 began frequenting a particular western red cedar tree. Park biologists set up four cameras facing the tree, and look what they found!
F007 had given birth to four kits. She was using the old cedar tree as a den in which to house her babies. F007’s story was great news for the project; not only had F007 survived the move from British Columbia to Washington, but she was thriving enough to have a large litter. Park scientists and cooperators worked hard to track reproduction of the transplanted fishers because to persist over time, the introduced fishers need to not only survive, but to also produce offspring. F007 represented the first female fisher who established her home range, became pregnant, and gave birth on the peninsula.
On April 19, 2010, F007’s collar emitted a mortality signal. When field techs tracked down the collar, they found that F007 had shed it--she likely was not dead, after all! The collar was found in what appears to have been a denning tree--there was more scat than you would expect for just one fisher. So even though we lost track of F007 after that, we were hopeful that she survived and that she raised another litter of kits in 2010. We later found another one of F007’s kits, 0728-F, who was born in 2011 or later. One of F007's daughters, 0747-F, lives near Staircase, and has at least two daughters of her own.
Fisher 007 scrambles up and down a cedar tree, carrying her four kits one at a time.
A tragic end: M079
Scientists released the three-year old fisher M079 into the park in the Quinault Valley on January 21, 2010. His radio collar failed after three months, preventing us from learning his whereabouts for his first few years on the peninsula. M079 showed up on a wildlife camera in November 2013 at six years old. Sadly, the next time M079 was spotted, he was recovered along Highway 101 after being struck and killed by a vehicle. M079 was 8 years old at the time of his death.
Unfortunately, M079’s story is not unique; several fishers have also been killed by vehicles. Most have been hit on Highway 101, and all were hit outside the park.
Fishers in Our Own Backyard: F004
If you live in the Port Angeles area, F004 may have scampered across your property. Released as a two year old in 2008 in the Elwha Valley, F004 explored deep into the interior of the park before deciding to settle down (as many of us have) on the outskirts of Port Angeles. F004 successfully established a home range in the Morse Creek drainage. She continued to travel throughout 2009, meaning that she did not establish a den and have offspring. Things changed in 2010 however, when she gave birth to four kits. Her radio collar died later that year, but we know she has had at least 3 litters. One of her offspring currently lives near Kalaloch, and her grand-son lives near Lake Ozette.
The three-year old fisher F088 was released in the Boulder Creek drainage of the Elwha Valley in 2010. F088 was pregnant at the time of release, and quickly established a den on DNR land. Park scientists set up cameras to monitor the den, and noticed that bobcats were tracking the den as well. The cameras caught images of a bobcat climbing the tree. When the park biologists went to check on the site, they found the body of F088.
Though F088 was dead, two kits had survived in the den. People from several organizations worked together in the critical following hours to save the ten-week-old fisher kits. A Washington DNR biologist climbed the snag to retrieve the kits, a BC Ministry of Environment veterinarian provided invaluable advice as to how to care for the kits, and a local Port Angeles veterinarian came to the site in the middle of the night to rehydrate the kits, who had been without food for three days.
Northwest Trek, a zoological park in Tacoma, WA, graciously agreed to take in the kits. Northwest Trek raised the kits, M100 and M101, with minimal human contact. After four months at Northwest Trek, M100 and M101 had grown to over 5kg each, more than their juvenile counterparts that had been released from British Columbia (WDFW fisher updates). Once the kits neared mature size, and successfully captured and killed live prey, they were released into the park by Obstruction Point on October 15, 2010. This location was selected for their release because of the presence of other fishers, as well as the existence of prey such as mountain beavers and snowshoe hares.
The situation looked dire for M100 and M101 in the spring of 2011 when both fishers’ collars emitted mortality signals. When biologists went to find their bodies, however, they found only collars. It appears that the two fishers had simply slipped their collars. Since the fishers were alive at the time that they shed their collars, biologists learned that the fishers had survived to at least seven months, indicating that captive-raising was successful. The success of captive-raising was confirmed in June 2014 when M101 was detected by wildlife cameras 47km from his release site. In 2016, M101 was found alive once more. He was six years old as of his last sighting.
M101’s story offers encouragement for the fisher project; this was the first time that a wild fisher was raised in captivity, and then successfully released back into the wild. M101’s survival was also a reflection of the success of partnerships. Northwest Trek is just one of the invaluable contributors to the fisher reintroduction. It is only through a multitude of organizations and individuals that the fishers have made their way back into Washington. If we are to facilitate the reintroduction of more species to Washington, partnerships like these will be imperative. These same partnerships will also prove invaluable if we are to prevent more species from being extirpated or from disappearing altogether.