Washington state’s first wild fishers born in half a century in North Cascades region

By the mid-1990s fishers were pretty much wiped out in Washington state due to wilderness loss and rampant trapping. By 1998, the cat-sized member of the weasel family was declared an endangered species in its native habitat in the state.

But an international conservation effort involving the U.S. National Park Service, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Calgary Zoo in Alberta, is bringing wild fishers back to the state.

This spring, biologists recorded the first wild fishers born in the North Cascades in probably 50 years. A female fisher, known as F105, was spotted on a trail camera with four kits in her den in western Chelan County on April 18.

“Seeing her and her kits is a wonderful first indication that the North Cascades Ecosystem can support a reproductive population of fishers, and it’s a great sign for fisher recovery in Washington,” Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist Dr. Jeff Lewis said in a statement.

And hopefully, officials say, this family isn’t an isolated case.

“We have high hopes that we will find additional females in the North Cascades having kits this spring,” Lewis added.

Wild fishers have been born in Washington state for the first time in 50 years. Here she is carrying a baby in her mouth. Photo: Calgary Zoo/NPS/WDFW

“Seeing one fisher kit born in the wild North Cascades is a wonder; photos showing a group of wild kits is phenomenal,” Dave Werntz, Science and Conservation Director for Conservation Northwest said in a news release. “This new family is an auspicious sign that these reintroduced fishers are finding a good home in the North Cascades.”

Before Fisher F105 made its home in Washington, she was “Luna” who lived in northern Alberta, where the wild fisher population is thriving.

That’s where the Calgary Zoo came in.

It added its expertise, animal care and conservation knowledge to bring Canadian fishers to the United States.

The partnership saw the capture and release 89 fishers from northern Alberta and relocation of them to the North Cascades National Park Service Complex and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest between 2018 and 2020.

Fisher F105 was released on Dec. 13, 2018, west of Darrington.

“Bringing a species back to where they had once disappeared is a long and challenging journey, so we’re elated to see fishers from Canada contribute to this important milestone,” José Luis Postigo, the zoo’s population ecologist explained.

Fishers have been captured in northern Alberta and brought to Washington state in recent years. Photo: Calgary Zoo/NPS/WDFW

Since reintroduction, fishers have been detected throughout the region, in parts of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, and on private land as far east as Winthrop.

In fact, 60 private landowners have signed conservation agreements covering millions of acres of land to help protect fishers.

Between 2015 and 2020, these partners also released 81 fishers.

Since 2008 when reintroduction efforts began, more than 250 fishers have been brought to the state in hope of reestablishing the species.

NPS wildlife biologist Dr. Jason Ransom said these kinds of collaborations help establish a healthy landscape — despite the boundaries.

“Seeing these fishers find their place and thrive brings so much hope to this ecosystem,” NPS Wildlife Biologist Dr. Jason Ransom added.

Fishers dine on small mammals including mountain beavers, squirrels, and snowshoe hares and porcupines. But here she is carrying a baby in her mouth. Photo: Calgary Zoo/NPS/WDFW


 

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Recovering newspaper reporter.

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