More fishers reintroduced in Washington


The fisher, a large member of the weasel, mink and otter family, has returned to Washington in recent years after disappearing in the mid-1900s because of overtrapping and loss of habitat. The revival of the fisher is because of efforts by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other leaders to reintroduce the mammal to the Olympic Peninsula and the Cascade Mountains.

Forest landowners are also playing a critical role in the fisher’s recovery. More than two dozen forest landowners have signed agreements to monitor any fishers that venture on their property and to not disturb the animals. The agreement, called a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA), gives the landowners regulatory certainty in the event that the fisher is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

That’s why the moment last week in Mount Rainier National Park was so special to forest landowners and so many other people. Ten fishers were released, the first in the park in decades, as part of the ongoing effort to reintroduce the animals to the South Cascades.

In a blur, about 10 pounds of fur and flesh roared out of a plywood box, then bounded across an inch of snow before disappearing into old-growth forest.

“Whoa, look at her go,” said Jeff Lewis, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologist. “Like she was shot out of a cannon.”

The zooming furball, Betsy, was one of 10 fishers released Friday as part of an effort to reintroduce the species in the Cascade Mountains…

If all goes well, she will make a den, find a mate and get to work multiplying.

But first, the fishers made a dazzling entrance.

Nisqually tribal members drummed softly as each fisher exited its plywood cage. Nine remote cameras and dozens of smartphones captured their every move as a crowd of 100 whooped at the animals’ release.

“It filled my heart with joy. They’re back,” said Jackie Wall, a Nisqually Tribe elder and one of the drummers.

The fishers were released on five acres of land designated for use by the Nisqually tribe within the park.

“It’s the only area in the park you can see the (Nisqually) river and the mountain,” Wall said. “It’s really bringing them home.”

The reintroduction of the fishers to Washington is promising so far.

“We have a chance to correct a thing that we didn’t manage correctly a long time ago. We can restore a species,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a WDFW wildlife biologist.

The first fisher reintroduction in the state was done in Olympic National Park in 2008. About 90 fishers were reintroduced over several years, and those animals have successfully reproduced.

Last May, park officials approved a plan to partner with the state to re-establish the fisher to the two national parks. The goal is to rebuild the population so fishers can survive and reproduce on their own, as well as to improve the ecosystem.

“When biodiversity is lost from an ecosystem, that system is less able to withstand change and can become less resilient,” said Tara Chestnut, a Mount Rainier park ecologist.

Just seeing the fishers last week sprint out of their cages into the wild is quite a sight.

It took a long journey to bring fishers to Mount Rainier. They were trapped on First Nations land near Williams Lake in British Columbia, about 500 miles from Mount Rainier.

For weeks, the fishers were held in captivity, then vaccinated and treated for health issues before being inspected on both sides of the border.

After the fishers arrived at Mount Rainier National Park, groups of tribal leaders, environmental advocates and officials carried a procession of caged fishers into the forest in plywood cages constructed by national park carpenters.

“This looks almost the opposite of a funeral; we’re carrying something to give it new life,” said Rick Gilbert, a 71-year-old tribal councilor representing the Williams Lake Band of Indians. Gilbert traveled 10 hours to come to the ceremony and celebrate the fishers’ release.

“It’s so good to see concern about the animals and nature and conservation in this world where so many species are going extinct,” Gilbert said.