Fisher being studied for federal endangered list
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Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
A group of wildlife enthusiasts, including Olympic National Park Superintendent Karen Gustin, center in red coat, watch as one of seven fishers is released into the park near Whiskey Bend in the Elwha River Valley on Friday, Dec. 24, 2009.

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists will begin studying next year whether the fisher, a weasel-like mammal recently reintroduced to Olympic National Park, should be listed on the federal endangered species list.

The fisher is now listed on the state endangered species list.

It was reintroduced to the North Olympic Peninsula from Canada during 2008 to 2011. Before then, the most recent reported sighting of a fisher on the Peninsula was in 1969.

The fisher has been listed since 2004 as a federal endangered list candidate, said Doug Zimmer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman.

“It's a species that we looked at and said, 'Yep, they probably are at risk, but we have other species we need to look at first,'” Zimmer said.

Officials will consider changing the fisher's designation after a 12-month status review, he said, with the study to begin in January.

Scientists will seek to answer whether changing conditions in the fisher's habitat, such as recovery efforts currently under way in Olympic National Park, have helped or hindered their populations.

“This will not be an automatic listing,” Zimmer said.

The research will be evaluated by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, he said.

The greatest drain on Washington populations of fishers, which once ranged from British Columbia into Western Washington and Oregon and south to the northern Sierra Nevada mountains in California, was over-trapping for the animal's fur in the mid-1800s until 1934, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The fisher's curious nature most likely contributed to the ease of its capture, since the inquisitive mammal cannot seem to resist a trap baited with a chunk of meat, Zimmer said.

“Being fishers, they're relatively easy to trap, and they're really a sucker for chicken parts,” Zimmer said.

Biologists with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey have been working since 2008 to trap and study dozens of fishers that have been released into the national park as part of the first fisher reintroduction effort in the state.

Patti Happe, park biologist, said if fishers are listed on the federal endangered species, it wouldn't change much in the national park or Olympic National Forest, since the majority of both areas already are protected because the endangered marbled murrelet calls these areas home.

Results of reintroduction could help to show an endangered or endangered candidate listing is not needed if the animal populations have grown in the national park and forest, Happe said.

Although scientists have been able to gather useful information on the reintroduced fishers' habits, including evidence that at least a dozen have produced offspring in the national park, Happe said she cannot estimate the current fisher population on the North Olympic Peninsula.

“The initial indications are that [the reintroduction program] was successful, but we don't know for sure,” Happe said.

However, Happe said researchers saw survival rates for the released fishers between 60 percent and 80 percent, showing that the transplanted animals are settling in.

Tracking work was paused in 2012. Biologists were out of the field preparing grant funding applications to pay for phase two of the reintroduction plan, set to start next May, Happe said.

The second phase of the reintroduction project will see scientists, with the help of other state agencies and members of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, tracking the fisher in both the park and the forest, with the intent of confirming the reintroduction program's effectiveness.

“I'm ready to get back out there,” Happe said.

“It's really pretty exciting.”

To learn more about the fisher reintroduction program, visit the state Department of Fish and Wildlife's website dedicated to the project at http://1.usa.gov/Sfh0Oy.



Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: November 28. 2012 6:14PM
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