Most recently I documented research in a blog post pertaining to the ‘sixth mass extinction,’ which is shockingly taking place as we speak. While under-reported, the current indicators point to several species diminishing as much as 67 percent by the year 2020. In light of those devastating findings, it’s encouraging to learn about efforts to save and reverse the extinction process of one mammal you may never have been aware of — namely, the Pacific fisher.
The Fisher’s Backstory
A weasel-like mammal, the Pacific fisher is a carnivorous mammal, native to North America. Closely related to, but slightly larger than the American marten, the fisher belies its name. It indeed does not fish for its supper. Instead fishers prefer to hunt on the forest floor, where it forages for its food, feeding on a wide variety of small animals, such as snowshoe hares. And it's also one of the few animals able to prey successfully on porcupines.
For hundreds of years, humans unfortunately have been the fishers main predator. They have been trapped since the 18th century for their fur. In fact, their pelts were in such demand that they were extirpated from several parts of the United States in the early part of the 20th century causing their near extinction.
When their populations were wiped out in the state of Washington, animal advocacy groups stepped in to encourage the state government to get involved. This led to tighter environmental legislation, coupled with the recent humane efforts of “rewilding.”
Since the Pacific fisher are still found in British Columbia, Canada, 10 of these rare animals [four females an six males] were rewilded to Mount Ranier National Park to allow them repopulate the historic range. Environmentalists believe reviving the species could improve the overall health of Washington state’s forests while restoring a spiritual symbol for the local Nisqually Indian Tribe.
Native American Welcome & Fanfare . . .
For the tribe, repopulation could also mean the return of an important cultural and spiritual symbol — “an important aspect of conversation that is often lost in the shuffle of science,” noted Global Animal organization’s Aliza Manzelli.
On December 2nd, as the fishers were released from their cages, Nisqually elders provided them with a musical welcome of ceremonial drums, while of 100s onlookers cheered them on.
Historically, these ten creatures were the first of their kind to step foot back into the United States in nearly 80 years.
However, reintroduction to a native habitat doesn’t necessarily assure a success of survival. So the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife [WDFW] will be monitoring these immigrants very closely in the months ahead. Dr. Lewis and his project team – which includes Dave Werntz from Conservation Northwest, Tara Chestnut of Mt. Rainier National Park, and Jason Ransom of North Cascades National Park – are in charge of this environmental effort.
To ensure the population remains hardy enough to self-sustain, Lewis and his team will follow and track each released individual very closely.
“You don’t want to shortchange your project by not putting enough animals out there,” Lewis says. “There’s a bottleneck effect with new populations, so there’s going to be mortality. You can’t expect them to behave like resident populations right away, in terms of survival and reproduction. It takes time for that to happen, so we’ve got to wait a while to track that,” notes Lewis.