Rescued fishers set free near Hurricane Ridge

OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — Two orphaned fisher kits, who had thrived in foster care after they were rescued from their den, are now taking care of themselves after being released near Hurricane Ridge.

The two fisher brothers, who were 10 weeks old when biologists rescued them in mid-June, were released into Olympic National Park near Hurricane Ridge on Friday, said Barb Maynes, park spokeswoman.

The kits were raised at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, near Tacoma, until they were old enough to hunt for themselves and survive on their own, said Whitney DalBalcon, spokeswoman for the wildlife park.

“They went from ounces to pounds” while in the wildlife park’s care, said Dave Ellis, deputy director of Northwest Trek.

He didn’t know exactly how much the male fishers, which can reach 8 to 11 pounds, weighed when they arrived or left.

The fishers’ mother was pregnant when she was moved from British Columbia to Olympic National Park in a reintroduction effort that has brought 90 fishers into the park from Canada to re-establish the species on the North Olympic Peninsula.

The weasel-like animals — which are related to minks, otters and martens — are native to the forests of Washington state, including those of the Peninsula.

They became extinct on the Peninsula about 70 years ago because of over-hunting and trapping.

Park and state biologists, who track the animals with radio signals from collars placed on them before they are released, said that the fishers have traveled as far as Ocean Shores and Neah Bay.

About 20 of the transplanted animals have not survived. They’ve been hit by cars on U.S. Highway 101, eaten as prey or died from other causes.

About 70 fishers have survived out of those released.

Fishers’ mother died

The Canadian fisher that gave birth to two kits was one of the casualties.

She reportedly fell prey to a bobcat.

When biologists deduced from her radio signal that she had died, her orphaned kits were rescued from the den on state Department of Natural Resources land and were moved to their temporary home at Northwest Trek.

“These would be the first wild [fisher] babies that have been raised in the park,” Ellis said.

The wildlife park has bred fishers in captivity.

It was because of its experience that the state Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists asked that Northwest Trek take the fishers, Ellis said.

“And it’s also because we expressed interest in helping in any recovery efforts” of native animals, he added.

With 723-acres, Northwest Trek exhibits more than 200 animals, representing more than 35 species native to North America.

No names

If their handlers gave the two fishers names, Ellis wasn’t aware of them.

“I’m sure the keepers have a name for them,” he said, “but we don’t name animals to keep from thinking of them as pets.”

They were taking solid food at 10 weeks and so were fed a pureed carnivore diet.

Fishers eat small and mid-sized mammals such as snowshoe hares, squirrels, mountain beavers, mice and birds. They also eat insects, fruit and fungi.

In Canada, they preyed on porcupine, but that will be missing from their diet in the Olympic Mountains, which is not porcupine territory.

“We provided a den box for them to be in together, as they would have been in natal den,” Ellis said, adding that shavings provided insulation and warmth.

The kits received physical exams, vaccinations and radio-collars Thursday, DalBalcon said.

Fishers were listed as a state-endangered species in 1998 by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission and were designated as a candidate for federal listing in 2004 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act.

State and federal recovery efforts began in early 2008 with the reintroduction of fishers from British Columbia to the park.

Along with the park and state Fish and Wildlife Department, partners in the recovery effort include the U.S. Geological Survey, Olympic National Forest and DNR.

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Managing Editor/News Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3531 or leah.leach@peninsuladailynews.com.

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