Despite a cancellation notice sent to dozens of attendees, snow at Mt. Rainier National Park couldn’t stop more than 50 people from showing up to witness history.
On a snowy Friday a team of scientists released four fishers into the wild. A sight that had a handful of adults all smiles as Dr. Tara Chestnut, an ecologist with Mount Rainier National Park, jumped up shouting: “We did it!”
To understand the excitement around four cat-sized mammals being released into the wild, you need to understand the backstory. Fishers were once a common sight in the state of Washington in the early 1900s. After years of a booming fur industry, the fisher essentially vanished from the region.
That led to people like Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Jeff Lewis spending the better part of two decades working to bring their population back. The plan to reintroduce fishers from Canada into the Cascade Mountains was hatched long ago, but became a reality in 2008 when state, federal and partner biologists started to releasing fishers into the wild.
“People have been working tirelessly to restore this mysterious and rare carnivore to the Cascades,” said Lewis. “We think it’s likely that fishers will continue to settle into the recovery areas, find mates, and provide the foundation for a large, healthy population in Washington.”
Friday marked the final release at Mount Rainier National Park. In total the state fisher recovery program has led to 85 fishers being released in the North Cascade, 90 on the Olympic Peninsula and 81 more in the South Cascades.
The next steps will include tracking the fishers in the wild and tracking the gene pool of the species to see if there’s enough diversity for the animals to begin to thrive again. In other words, the scientists have laid the groundwork in hopes that Mother Nature will take back over.
“When we talk about success, we’ve reached the success point of releasing animals,” said Dr. Chestnut. “That’s good for us. That’s good for our hearts and soul, but we need multiple generations. It’s going to take awhile for fishers to produce enough generations for that.”