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.