A return to Washington: Early signs that fishers are coming back

In the early 1900s, they were hunted for fur. By the 90s, fishers – a house cat-sized member of the weasel family – had essentially vanished from Washington state.

Over the past three years, biologists and volunteers from across the PNW and Canada have teamed up to re-introduce the once thriving species to the Cascades. The work behind the scenes to create the plan started much earlier.

This week, there were signs of success: a kit of baby fishers captured on a trail-cam. In all, there were four young fishers in total with their mother. They are thought to be the first born in the Cascades in roughly half a century, proof that the final chapter may not have been written in the species’ story in Washington.

“All the sweat and tears have been worth it,” wrote Jason Ransom, a biologist with the National Park Service.

Fishers are part of the same family of mammals as mink, otters and wolverines. Their fur was highly sought after in the early years of Washington, which led to over-trapping. They faced other problems, too, as land-use in their natural habitats changed rapidly.

In an effort to bring the species back to their natural lands, biologists worked with their counterparts in Canada where fishers remain more abundant. Dozens of fishers were trapped then released into a handful of hand-picked locations in Washington’s national forests.

It appears the “transplants” naturally are spreading out on their own, too. The mammal has been detected in and around the North Cascades, throughout Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, in parts of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and on private lands as far east as Winthrop.

“Seeing one fisher kit born in the wild North Cascades is a wonder. Photos showing a group of wild kits is phenomenal,” said Dave Werntz, science and conservation director for Conservation Northwest. “This new family is an auspicious sign that these reintroduced fishers are finding a good home in the North Cascades.”