The fisher (Pekania pennanti) is one of the larger members of the weasel family and is only found in North America’s boreal and temperate forests. Through excessive trapping and habitat loss, fishers were eliminated from Washington state by the mid-1900s. The species is currently listed as endangered in the state of Washington and is under consideration for listing as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has been working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Park Service, US Geological Survey and the US Forest Service to help recover the fisher. Recovery areas have been identified for the Olympic and Cascade ranges. Successful reintroductions occurred in Olympic National Park from 2008 to 2010 and reintroductions are planned in Mount Rainier National Park and Gifford Pinchot National Forest in the South Cascades for late 2015. Two to three years later, reintroductions will follow in the North Cascades (North Cascades National Park and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest).
In addition to reintroducing the species, WDFW has been preparing for the potential federal listing by developing a voluntary conservation approach for private landowners – a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA). Simply stated, those who agree to take certain measures to protect fishers would not be subject to future land-use restrictions that might result if the species is listed under the ESA.
How Can Forest Landowners Help?
Wildlife managers are seeking help from forest landowners to work as partners in the recovery of fishers in Washington state. Forest landowners can qualify for this type of conservation agreement by voluntarily signing on to the CCAA administered by WDFW. Proposed conservation measures applicable to all enrollees include:
- Allowing WDFW access to your property to monitor fishers and their den sites
- Providing protection to denning females and their young by avoiding disturbance around known denning sites while occupied (generally between the months of March and September)
WDFW will submit its draft CCAA template to USFWS in April 2015. The federal review and approval process will begin, which will include a public review process. Once approved, landowners can sign on to the CCAA until such time as fishers become listed under the federal ESA.
The species is dark brown and has a long bushy tail, short rounded ears, short legs, and a low-to-the-ground appearance. Fishers mate from late March to early May, with females giving birth to a litter of 1 to 4 kits the following year. While birthing dens are always in cavities of live trees, females may move the kits to other den structures, including cavities in snags or downed logs, or to log piles or ground burrows. Fishers prey on small mammals such as deer mice, voles, and squirrels throughout their 25-to-50 square mile2 home ranges.
They prefer low- and mid-elevation forests with moderate to dense canopy closure and an abundance of large woody structures such as cavity trees, snags, and downed logs.
For more information on the fisher, the CCAA and enrolling in the program, please contact Gary Bell by phone at 360-902-2412 or via email at Gary.Bell@dfw.wa.gov
By Terry Jackson, WDFW Forest Habitats Section Manager