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After a long absence, fishers return to Washington state and Olympic National Park

Eleven fishers were released Jan. 27 at remote sites within the Elwha Valley of Olympic National Park, marking the first step toward restoring these small, reclusive mammals to the state of Washington. A small group of area students and project partners watched one of the releases as two female and one male fishers ran from their transport boxes into the ancient forest above Altair Campground.

About the size of a house cat, fishers are members of the weasel family and are related to mink, otter and marten. They are native to the forests of Washington, including the Olympic Peninsula, but vanished from the state decades ago because of over-trapping in the late 1800s and early 1900s, habitat loss and habitat fragmentation. Fishers were listed as a state endangered species in 1998 by the Washington 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.

“This is an exciting day, not only because we’ve returned fishers to Olympic National Park but also because their return is the result of a long and productive partnership,” said Olympic National Park acting superintendent Sue McGill. “By working together, we’ve restored a species and created a brighter future for the park and generations yet to come.”

Restoration of fishers to Washington and Olympic National Park is the result of a strong and diverse alliance including federal and state agencies along with nonprofit partners. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Park Service are co-leading the project while the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are instrumental partners in supporting both the transport of fishers from British Columbia and post-release monitoring. Olympic National Forest is also cooperating on the project.

“The reintroduction of the fisher is a significant step in preserving our wildlife heritage,” said WDFW director Jeff Koenings. “I believe citizens of the state will be excited to learn that lost wildlife like the fisher can be reclaimed. It’s great to be part of this important partnership whose members have worked so hard on this effort.”

Nonprofit partner Conservation Northwest has and continues to provide vital funding for the project and Washington’s National Park Fund has pledged financial support for monitoring the proposed reintroduced fisher population.

“With fishers back home in the Olympic Peninsula, the magnificent old-growth ecosystem found here is now more complete,” said Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest. “We are honored to be involved in this effort and commend the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Olympic National Park for their leadership.”

Each of the 11 animals released is fitted with a tiny radio transmitter to allow biologists to track its movements and activities as the fishers settle in to their new habitat. Results of this monitoring will not only add to scientists’ understanding of fishers in the ecosystem but will be used to refine and adjust future releases within the park. Over the next three years, approximately 100 fishers will be released within Olympic National Park.

Fisher reintroduction to Olympic National Park was examined in an environmental assessment released in September 2007. Nearly 200 comments were received and a finding of no significant impact was signed in November, paving the way for the release.

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