Park Ser­vice re­leases fish­ers in North Cas­cades

The News Tribune - - Local - BY KIM­BERLY CAUVEL Sk­agit Val­ley Her­ald

Six fish­ers – medi­um­sized, furry car­ni­vores – will be re­leased into the North Cas­cades this morn­ing near the vis­i­tor cen­ter in Ne­whalem.

The stocky, dark brown crit­ters are re­lated to weasels and are about the size of a house cat.

The re­lease to­day within the North Cas­cades Na­tional Park Ser­vice Com­plex is the lat­est step in an on­go­ing ef­fort to re­store pop­u­la­tions of the na­tive car­ni­vore to the state’s forests, ac­cord­ing to a news re­lease from the Na­tional Park Ser­vice.

The re­lease is also the first in the North Cas­cades, where part­ner agen­cies plan to re­lease about 80 of the an­i­mals from now through 2020.

Fish­ers dis­ap­peared from Wash­ing­ton forests in the mid-1900s due to be­ing over­har­vested for their furs and the loss of habi­tat due to log­ging and de­vel­op­ment, ac­cord­ing to state and fed­eral agen­cies.

De­spite pro­tec­tion since 1934, when rules were es­tab­lished re­gard­ing fur trap­ping, the fisher has not re­turned on its own to Wash­ing­ton’s forests, ac­cord­ing to the state Depart­ment of Fish & Wildlife.

The goal of the re­leases is to re-es­tab­lish re­pro­duc­ing pop­u­la­tions of fish­ers that will fill their long-void role in the for­est.

“It is ex­cit­ing to get to wel­come them back into the ecosys­tem after a long ab­sence,” North Cas­cades Na­tional Park Ser­vice Com­plex Wildlife Bi­ol­o­gist Ja­son Ran­som told the Sk­agit Val­ley Her­ald.

Fish­ers were listed by Fish & Wildlife as en­dan­gered in 1998 and are unique to North Amer­ica, ac­cord­ing to the re­cov­ery plan the state adopted in 2006.

Fur trap­ping records show that fish­ers were once com­mon in the Cas­cades, on the Olympic Penin­sula, and in the south­west and north­east ar­eas of the state.

Fed­eral, state and part­ner agen­cies are work­ing to bring the an­i­mals back to their his­toric range in Wash­ing­ton.

Those re­leased Wed­nes­day were cap­tured in Al­berta, Canada, after a series of wild­fires in Bri­tish Columbia raised con­cerns about fur­ther dis­turb­ing res­i­dent pop­u­la­tions.

The fish­ers were eval­u­ated by ve­teri­nar­i­ans at the prov­ince’s Cal­gary Zoo and are equipped with ra­dio trans­mit­ters so wildlife biologists can track their move­ments, ac­cord­ing to the news re­lease. Mon­i­tor­ing of fish­ers pre­vi­ously re­leased in other parts of the state has shown suc­cess, with many pro­duc­ing young, ac­cord­ing to Fish & Wildlife.

Be­tween 2008 and 2010, 90 fish­ers were re­leased in Olympic Na­tional Park. Be­tween 2015 and 2017, 69 fish­ers were re­leased in the Gif­ford Pin­chot Na­tional For­est and in Mount Rainier Na­tional Park in the South Cas­cades.

State wildlife biologists first con­firmed sight­ings of new­born fish­ers in Olympic Na­tional Park in 2009. Ra­dio col­lars, re­mote cam­eras and DNA anal­y­sis have since doc­u­mented sev­eral gen­er­a­tions of de­scen­dants, ac­cord­ing to a 2016 news re­lease.

“We know the fisher pop­u­la­tion in the Olympic Na­tional Park is re­pro­duc­ing and ex­pand­ing ge­o­graph­i­cally,” Fish & Wildlife’s Penny Becker said in that 2016 news re­lease.

Over the next two years, sev­eral more groups of fish­ers from Al­berta will be re­leased in the North Cas­cades, in­clud­ing in the na­tional park com­plex and the neigh­bor­ing Mount Baker-Sno­qualmie Na­tional For­est.

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