Published: December 2006
Author(s): Gerald E. Hayes and Jeffrey C. Lewis
The fisher is a large, stocky dark brown member of the weasel family. It has a long bushy tail, short, rounded ears, short legs, and a low-to-the-ground appearance. Historically, fishers were widely distributed in Washington in dense, mesic forests at low to mid-elevations. The geographic distribution of trapping reports and collected specimens confirms that fishers occurred throughout the Cascades, Olympic Peninsula, and parts of southwestern and northeastern Washington, although it does not appear that they were as abundant in Washington as in other parts of their range.
Fishers occur only in North America, and between the late 1800s and early 1900s populations were nearly extirpated over much of their former range in the United States and eastern Canada. The two most significant causes of the fisherâ€™s decline were over-trapping and loss and fragmentation of low- and midelevation late-successional forests. Trapping reduced populations quickly. Despite decades of protection from harvest, fisher populations never recovered in Washington. Fishers use forest structures associated with late-successional forests, such as large live trees, snags and logs, for giving birth and raising their young, as well as for rest sites. Travel among den sites, rest sites, and foraging areas occurs under a dense forest canopy; large openings in the forest are avoided. Commercial forestry removed the large trees, snags and logs that were important habitat features for fishers, and short harvest rotations (40-60 years) didnâ€™t allow for the replacement of these large tree structures. Clearcuts fragmented remaining fisher habitat and created impediments to dispersal, thus isolating fishers into smaller populations that increased their risk of extinction.
The fisher was listed as endangered in Washington in 1998 by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission and is now considered likely extirpated from the state. In 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that the West Coast fisher population constitutes a distinct population segment and that a federal listing of endangered is warranted. However, the Service precluded listing the species because of pending proposals for other species of higher priority. The West Coast distinct population segment of the fisher population is now on the federal list of candidate species and was given a listing priority number of 6 (1-12 scale).
A self-sustaining fisher population is not likely to become re-established in the state without human intervention. Reintroductions are the only means of recovery in western Washington and have been successful in the recovery of fisher populations in other parts of the fisherâ€™s range. Federal lands (national parks and national forests) are important for fisher recovery in Washington. Federal lands have substantial areas of late-successional forest and additional fisher habitat is likely to become available in the future on the national forest land base as forests mature under guidelines established in the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan.
A reintroduction feasibility study was conducted for western Washington that identified three large areas of suitable habitat that may support fisher populations. These included the Olympic Peninsula, the southwestern Cascades, and the northwestern Cascades. Olympic National Park was identified as the most suitable for the first reintroduction, followed by the southwestern and northwestern Cascades. Results from research and monitoring of the Olympic Peninsula population will guide future translocations in the Cascade Mountains and, possibly, the Selkirk Mountains.
The recovery plan outlines strategies that, when implemented, will likely restore self-sustaining fisher populations to Washington. The recovery plan identifies three recovery areas in Washington: the Olympic, Cascade, and Selkirk.
The current state of knowledge of fisher ecology in Washington does not allow for the development of population numbers or specific geographic distribution goals as recovery criteria. The recovery strategies focus on re-establishing fishers at multiple locations in the state. Interim objectives will likely be modified as more is learned about the habitat needs and population dynamics of fishers in Washington.
The interim recovery objectives of the fisher recovery plan are:
Fishers will be considered for downlisting from State Endangered to State Threatened status when:
- Self-sustaining populations of fishers are established in multiple locations in the Olympic Recovery Area and in the southern (south of Interstate 90) or northern (north of Interstate 90) portion of the Cascade Recovery Area.
Fishers will be considered for downlisting from State Threatened to State Sensitive status when:
- Self-sustaining populations of fishers are established in multiple locations within the Olympic Recovery Area, and in the southern and northern portions of the Cascade Recovery Area, and
- Agreements and/or forest management plans for managing habitats on federal and state forest lands within the Olympic and Cascade Recovery Areas are in place that will manage habitat to provide for the continued viability of fisher populations in Washington.
Fisher recovery strategies include assessing the feasibility of reintroductions in these three recovery areas (Olympic, Cascade, Selkirk), conducting reintroductions, monitoring populations, protecting established fisher populations, conducting research on the needs and limiting factors of fisher populations in Washington, and developing a conservation strategy for fisher habitat at multiple spatial scales. Longterm persistence of fishers in Washington will depend on federal land managers providing suitable habitat and habitat connectivity. Federal land managers are currently collaborating with scientists to develop a â€�"Fisher Conservation Assessment and Conservation Strategyâ€ for Washington, Oregon, and California. The assessment and strategy should provide guidance for management of forests on federal lands throughout the region to provide fisher habitat and maintain connectivity. Achieving recovery will require cooperation and partnerships among, state, federal, and local agencies, tribes, timber industry, non-governmental organizations, and private citizens.
Draft documents are provided for informational purposes only. Drafts may contain factual inaccuracies and may not reflect current WDFW policy.