Collaborative Project Enters Its Second Year as 15 More Animals Join Population Reintroduced Last Winter
At least 15 fishers will be released at remote sites within the Elwha, Sol Duc and Hoh valleys of Olympic National Park this weekend, adding to the fisher population that was reintroduced last winter and moving closer to the goal of establishing an initial population of 100 animals.
Fishers are about the size of a cat and are members of the weasel family, related to minks, otters and martens. A total of 18 of the animals, each fitted with a tiny radio transmitter, were released in Olympic National Park last January and March, in Washington State's first reintroduction of the species. Of the 18, only three are known to have died.
"We're very pleased at how well the fishers have survived - an 81 percent survival rate is quite high and is very encouraging as we begin year two of this project," said Olympic National Park Superintendent Karen Gustin.
Biologists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Olympic National Park (ONP) are still monitoring 13 of the reintroduced animals. Three of the fishers released last winter have died, and radio transmitters on two others no longer function. Scientists analyzed two of the carcasses, learning that one animal was killed by a bobcat in the Elwha Valley and one was fatally injured by a vehicle while crossing Highway 101 near Forks. The third animal died in a remote area of Olympic National Park and has not been recovered.
Fishers are native to the forests of Washington, including the Olympic Peninsula, but vanished from the state decades ago because of over-trapping in the late 1800s and early 1900s and habitat loss and fragmentation. Fishers were listed as a state endangered species in 1998 by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission and were designated as a candidate for federal listing in 2004 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act.
Fisher reintroduction to Olympic National Park is made possible through a partnership of agencies and organizations. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Olympic National Park are joint project managers and, along with the U.S. Geological Survey, are leading a research and monitoring program to evaluate the success of the reintroduction.
"It's gratifying to help lead this important cooperative effort and to see these encouraging results," said Dave Brittell, assistant director for WDFW's wildlife program. "As the project goes on, we look forward to establishing a thriving fisher population in Washington State."
The British Columbia Ministry of Environment is actively supporting the effort to capture and import fishers to Washington.
Non-profit partner Conservation Northwest provides financial and administrative support for the project's operations in British Columbia while Washington's National Park Fund is providing financial support for monitoring the reintroduced fisher population. Other partners and organizations are providing financial or logistical support for management and research tasks.
"What a great holiday gift to Olympic National Park and the people of Washington," said Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest. "Fifteen furry fishers in an old-growth tree."
The fishers to be released this year will also will wear radio transmitters, allowing biologists to track their movements and activities and adding to scientists' understanding of the fisher's role in the ecosystem. Over the duration of this three-year project, a total of approximately 100 fishers will be released within Olympic National Park; information gathered through monitoring helps biologists to refine the project.
"We are excited to work with the National Park Service and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to evaluate this landmark project, said Kurt Jenkins, USGS Research Wildlife Biologist. "Better understanding of fisher restoration in Olympic National Park promises to be widely useful to future restoration programs within the species' range."
Fisher reintroduction to Olympic National Park was examined in an environmental assessment released in September 2007. Nearly 200 comments were received and a Finding of No Significant Impact was signed in November 2007, paving the way for fisher restoration.
More information, including monthly updates from the monitoring effort, is available online at the Fishers in Washington web site.