Fishers may return to Cascades

Native carnivore vanished from state, has been returned to Olympics

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photoIn this undated photo provided by the National Park Service, researcher Scott Horton slowly climbs a tree while searching for a fisher den in the Olympic National Park, Wash. Horton was unsure which hole the den was in, so he slowly climbed the tree and stuck a camera in each hole to take a photo, finally confirming a den when the kits growled back at his camera. Wildlife officials reintroduced 90 fishers to the Olympic peninsula a few years ago, and are now preparing a plan to possibly reintroduce more of the cat-sized, forest-dwelling carnivores to Mount Rainier and North Cascades national parks as early as 2015. The fishers, which feed on small mammals, including snowshoe hares, mountain beavers and porcupines, have been missing from the region since the mid-90s. (AP Photo/National Park Service)
photoScott Horton/National Park Service files In this undated photo, a pair of fisher kits peer toward the camera as they're photographed in their den high up a tree in the Olympic National Park. Researchers were unsure which hole the den was in, so the photographer slowly climbed the tree and stuck a camera in each hole to take a photo, and when he shot this photo the kits growled, confirming the den.

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OLYMPIA -- A predator that disappeared from Washington two decades ago is in the midst of a comeback, and wildlife officials are looking to give the cat-sized carnivore known as the fisher some new help.

Wildlife officials reintroduced 90 fishers to the Olympic Peninsula a few years ago, and are now preparing a plan to reintroduce more of the weasel-like animals that hunt porcupines, beavers and hare to Mount Rainier and North Cascades national parks as early as 2015.

"Being able to restore this species is an exciting opportunity," said Elly Boerke, an environmental protection specialist for the National Park Service.

The initial plan is to introduce 40 fishers a year, with each park receiving a total of 80 animals.

First, though, the national parks, working with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, are seeking public comment through the end of September. Then, Boerke said, they'll assess any environmental impacts or other concerns, with a final decision on whether to move forward with the restoration likely to be made sometime next spring.

Fishers, which feed on small mammals, including snowshoe hares, mountain beavers and porcupines, are found only in North America, in low-to-mid elevation canopy forests. Fishers were once highly sought for their fur, and are the only native carnivore missing from the Washington Cascade Range, officials said.

"When you take one of the predators out of the system, you're affecting all the species it preys upon," said Mason Reid, a wildlife ecologist at Mount Rainier National Park.

Reid noted that fishers were once used to control the porcupine population because of the damage porcupines cause to trees.

"Each component is part of a puzzle," he said. "Each component has a role to play in the ecosystem."

As with the Olympic National Park reintroduction that began in 2008, the fishers for the new plan would be relocated from British Columbia.