DARRINGTON — Fishers, with long furry bodies, retractable claws and bushy tails, are a cat-sized member of the weasel family.
Starting in the 1800s, trappers seized on the mammal for its high-priced fur, making the wolverine relative nearly extinct from the state by the mid-1900s.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, with the help of the National Parks Service and Conservation Northwest, led efforts to release eight fishers late last month into the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
“Everyone is pleased, except perhaps the porcupines and hares,” Conservation Northwest executive director Mitch Friedman said in a news release.
One by one, the four male and four female fishers, each given a name from the Harry Potter series, were let out of boxes and darted for the woods as the crowd of more than 50 environmental agency and nonprofit officials, tribal members and spectators watched.
The animals were trapped in Alberta, Canada. Then, Calgary Zoo veterinarians screened the fishers and implanted them with tracking chips.
“Re-introductions are one of the best tools we have in the fight against species loss and seeing these strong and healthy Alberta carnivores released into pristine forest habitat, is very rewarding,” zoo President Clement Lanthier said in a news release.
After a cushy stay in Canada, the fishers were flown to the border to be picked up by state wildlife officials, who transported them to Buck Creek Campground in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
“It’s good to send them out the door with a full belly and a little extra poundage on them,” said Jason Ransom, a wildlife biologist for the National Parks Service. “They’ve got to find that special little hide-y-hole and figure out how to make a living.”
Ransom said he’ll be tracking the fishers for the next year and a half.
The release was partially funded by Washington’s National Parks Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for projects at the Mount Rainier, Olympic and North Cascasdes national parks, board member Jillian Kosic said.
Kosic was joined by Kalin Magruder, who won the chance to release a fisher at a parks fund auction last spring.
“They looked adorable and it sounded awesome,” Magruder said. “Washington national parks, our wildlife and everything we have to offer is pretty incredible. Any way we can give back to support that and encourage it to grow is totally worth it to me.”
While their population was harvested to near extinction in the Northwest, the region is still a proper home for fishers, state Fish and Wildlife biologist Jeff Lewis said.
“These old forests have a lot of large downed logs, snags (decomposing trees) and large cavity trees that fishers use for rest sites and pen sites,” Lewis said. “They’re really kind of part and parcel of what fisher habitat is.”
Thursday’s event marked the second step in bringing fishers back to the North Cascades and third phase of reintroduction efforts in the state for the animal.
Last winter, 26 fishers were released in the North Cascades. Ten more were added in early October.
In the South Cascades, state agencies released 73 more, starting in 2015.
Before that, 90 fishers were placed in the Olympic National Park between 2008 and 2010.