Fishers released in North Cascades: Elusive carnivores once considered extinct in Washington state

SEDRO WOOLLEY, Wash. – State, federal, and partner biologists released six fishers in the Skagit River watershed of Ross Lake National Recreation Area as part of an effort to restore the species to Washington state.

This is the first release in the North Cascades, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Fishers are about the size of a house cat and are members of the weasel family. They were eliminated from Washington by the mid-1900s through over-trapping and habitat loss.  Fishers are currently listed as an endangered species by the state and are being reviewed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

A voluntary fisher conservation program is available to private forest landowners that provides regulatory assurances should the species become listed. To date, 49 landowners have enrolled 2.98 million acres in fisher conservation. Fisher reintroduction efforts in recent years have happened on the Olympic Peninsula and near Mount Rainier in the South Cascades.

The five females and one male released Wednesday were captured in Alberta, Canada as part of a multi-year project to reintroduce approximately 80 fishers to the North Cascades. They underwent veterinary checkups at the Calgary Zoo and were equipped with radio transmitters to track their movements over time.

Conservation Northwest supports ongoing fisher monitoring with volunteers and remote cameras through its Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project.

In late 2015 and early 2016, 23 fishers, including 11 females and 12 males, were released in Washington’s southern Cascades in Gifford Pinchot National Forest (GPNF). In late 2016 and early 2017, 46 fishers were released in nearby areas of GPNF and in Mount Rainier National Park.

Since then, monitoring efforts show released animals have successfully established themselves throughout the Olympic Peninsula and the southern Cascades, and have begun to reproduce.

Fishers are related to wolverines and otters and are native to the forests of Washington, including the Cascade mountain range. This elusive carnivore preys on various small mammals – mountain beavers, squirrels and snowshoe hares – and is one of the few predators of porcupines.