Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park

Fishers in Washington

September 17, 2010, 12:43 pm

The fisher is a large, stocky, dark brown member of the weasel family, and is related to the mink, otter and marten. About the size of a house cat, the fisher has a long bushy tail, short rounded ears, short legs, and a low-to-the-ground appearance. Historically, fishers occurred throughout much of the mid to low elevation forested areas of Washington, but they were extirpated from the state by the mid 1900s.

The two main causes of the fisher’s decline were over-trapping and loss and fragmentation of forested habitats. There were no trapping regulations to protect fisher populations in Washington during the mid-1800s until 1934, and fishers were over-trapped because of the high market value of their pelts and their susceptibility to trapping. They were also vulnerable to incidental capture in traps set for other furbearers, poaching, and mortality from predator and pest control campaigns. The combination of these mortality factors and the loss and fragmentation of habitat led to the extinction of the fisher in Washington. Despite protection from legal harvest since 1934, the fisher has not recovered.

Extensive surveys to detect wide-ranging carnivores in the 1990s and early 2000s documented a number of target species but failed to detect fishers in Washington. Because of the lack of fisher detections and concern about fisher population declines the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) conducted a status review for the fisher in 1997. The Washington State Status Report for the Fisher concluded that the fisher was apparently extirpated in Washington and recommended that it be listed as endangered in the state. Based on the status review, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission listed the fisher as an endangered species in Washington in 1998. Fisher conservation efforts began in Washington following the listing. A recovery plan was written for the fisher in Washington, which outlined recovery objectives and strategies to restore the species to the state. Both the status review and the recovery plan identified the need for reintroductions to restore the species in the state because there were no existing fisher populations close enough to repopulate Washington. The first reintroduction in the state was done in Olympic National Park in 2008 and it was the first step toward fisher recovery in Washington.