Fisher

Tracking the Pacific Fisher Video
In California, WCS works with the Hoopa tribe to preserve the redwoods for an elusive forest mammal.
©WCS
Fisher Photo
Fishers do not fish. They acquired their mysterious name from the earliest North American fur traders.
J. Mark Higley ©Hoopa Tribal Forestry

One of the most elusive forest carnivores in North America, fishers are rarely seen even by those who work and play frequently in forested landscapes. Yet these carnivores are struggling to elude the pressures introduced by the fur trade and logging industry.

The fisher is found in wooded areas throughout southern Canada, the mountainous regions of the Pacific states, the northern Rocky Mountains, the Great Lakes region, and New England. Though it is slightly smaller than its cousin the wolverine, it is an equally powerful predator. Expert climbers, fishers are able to turn their hindpaws nearly backward and descend trees headfirst. They are the only predator with the morphology and behavioral disposition to make the well-fortified porcupine a regular part of their diet.

In cooperation with biologists from the Hoopa Valley Tribe, WCS scientists are pioneering ways to study fisher reproduction and the dispersal of young, and working with regional foresters to implement lasting conservation measures.

Fast Facts

Scientific NameMartes pennanti
  • Fishers do not fish. They acquired their mysterious name from the earliest North American fur traders.
  • ’ista:ngq’eh-k’itiqowh is fisher in the Hupa language, which translates to “log-along-it scampers.”
  • The fisher is a candidate for the federal endangered species list in the Pacific states.
  • Similar in size and shape to domestic cats, fishers have shorter legs and coats that range in color from strawberry blond to almost black.
  • WCS and the Hoopa Tribe worked to successfully rescue, raise, and release an orphaned fisher kit back to local forests.

Challenges

Fisher population sizes and the area they occupied declined dramatically after European settlers arrived, and began trapping them for the fur trade, logging their habitats, and introducing pest control programs. Significant conservation efforts coupled with forest regeneration have resulted in the recovery of many fisher populations in New England and southeastern Canada. However, in the Pacific states the fisher has fared less well. The species was considered locally extinct in Washington until recent reintroduction efforts, exists in two relatively small populations in southern Oregon, and occurs in less than half its historic range in California, where two isolated populations remain. Despite a halt to the fisher fur trade in the 1940s in the Pacific states, natural resource extraction, rural development, catastrophic wildfires, and changing climates continue to threaten the fisher’s remnant populations.

WCS Responds

Studying an animal as secretive as the fisher requires innovative thinking and a sustained commitment. WCS partners with the Hoopa Valley Tribe and others on the longest-running fisher research and conservation project in the Pacific States, to evaluate the species’ habitat needs and population status. Currently, we are working to describe what fishers look for when considering den sites, information useful to forest managers.

As part of our collaboration, our colleagues at the Integral Ecology Research Center published the first scientific paper documenting potential disease impacts to fisher populations. Our partners at the University of California, Davis are identifying fisher predators using genetic techniques, and evaluating what the impacts of predation might mean for fisher conservation. WCS and Hoopa Tribal biologists are sharing project findings widely, informing a fisher conservation assessment and strategy currently being developed. These and our other efforts will improve fisher management efforts and conserve essential habitats.

From the Newsroom

Poisoned by Pot: A New Threat to FishersJuly 13, 2012

Fishers hunt rodents and are the only predators tenacious enough to regularly prey upon porcupines. Unfortunately, these hardy carnivores are now threatened by toxic rodenticides used by illegal growers of marijuana.

An Elusive Forest Carnivore Grows ScarcerJuly 7, 2011

Fisher numbers in northwestern California are falling. A new WCS study finds the population of these elusive forest predators dropped 73 percent in less than a decade.

New Book Addresses Climate Change in the AdirondacksJuly 8, 2010

WCS ecologist Jerry Jenkins shows the global problem of climate change hitting home in the Adirondacks and how the region can fight back.

~/media/Images/wcs org/forms/please donate to help conservation.png
Stay in touch with WCS and receive the latest news.

Saving Wild Places

Where We Work