STEVENS PASS — Fishers, a mid-sized member of the weasel family, are making a comeback in the Pacific Northwest and Chelan County.
The species was eliminated from Washington state in the mid-1900s, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife website, due to trapping for their fur. But Fish and Wildlife, the National Park Service, Conservation Northwest and Calgary Zoo released 89 fishers in the North Cascades from 2018 to 2020 to help restore the species.
Since then, fishers have started having babies in the wild and have gotten as far as between Stevens Pass and Lake Wenatchee, said Jeff Lewis, state wildlife biologist.
“We have fishers in that vicinity that appear to be consistently occupying that area and we have females not far from there having babies,” Lewis said.
In March 2019, a resident of Plain caught an image of a fisher on a game camera. At the time, the picture was a unique find as Lake Wenatchee is so far between two of the recovery zones, the Mount St. Helens area and Mount Baker, where fishers were released.
It now appears that fishers are doing quite well in upper Chelan County, despite it not being the best habitat for them, Lewis said. The animals are found predominantly on the west side, where there are dense, Douglas Fir forested canyons.
“Ponderosa pine when it is mixed in with other forest types can be fine, but like a ponderosa pine savannah is not a good fisher habitat,” Lewis said. “Fishers really like overhead canopy; they like being in places where there is shadow.”
The state agency is working to return fishers to the landscape for several reasons, he said. For one, they were a part of the natural landscape before human settlement caused them to be overhunted.
“So, they have a role to play in the ecosystem,” Lewis said. “If that role is missing, then the ecosystem isn’t functioning as it once did.”
Fishers are one of the only real predators of porcupines for example, he said. They are also predated on by bobcats and mountain lions.
The state agency is now working on a camera trap study to track fishers in the wild and see how broadly they are distributed on the landscape, Lewis said. It will help them decide if they need to relocate some of the animals or release more on the landscape.
Eventually, state biologists may do a camera trap study near the Lake Wenatchee area, he said.
“It appears to be some good cover and some good prey in that (Lake Wenatchee) area to make me think we’ve got the makings of a sustainable population,” Lewis said.
The fisher population isn’t sustainable yet around Lake Wenatchee, but it might be someday, he said.