Six fishers — medium-sized, furry carnivores — will be released into the North Cascades this morning near the visitor center in Newhalem, Wash.
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 being released today 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.