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Pacific Fisher: Comeback Critter in Washington State [WATCH]

Dec 15, 2015 06:33 PM EST

While it's always fun to hear about small, furry creatures the size of housecats that thrive in damp coniferous forests, it's also great to hear that they're involved in positive reintroduction stories. Right? And that's what the Pacific fisher is doing in Washington, it seems.

The fisher is related to weasels and otters and is a bit larger than a marten. It's in the interestingly named mustelid family, which essentially means it is a type of weasel. Like the others, it was once overtrapped for the fur trade. While this mammal traditionally lived along the West Coast of Canada and the United States, as well as in parts of the Appalachians, Rockies and other mountainous areas of North America, its range was reduced by humans during the 1800s and early 1900s. Currently, the Pacific fisher, Pekania pennant, is mainly found in southern Oregon, Northern California and in parts of the Sierra Mountains.

In Washington state, the Pacific fisher is being reintroduced in certain national parks and public lands. The weasel-like creatures did not range into the land on their own, like their relative the wolverine, according to an article in High Country News by Ben Goldfarb.

In early December, the state released seven fishers into Gifford Pinchot National Forest, in the southwest part of the state. It was the first time the fisher had been seen in the South Cascades in over 70 years.

Though small, this animal is a tough predator and can really take down a porcupine; it dances around the quilled creature, giving it blows to the head before knocking it over and gathering meat out of its lower regions.

That said, the fisher did not survive human predators in Washington, and even in Oregon and northern California the furry small mammals are endangered by rodent poisons set out by illegal marijuana farms.

In Washington, the Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and partner organizations began relocating fishers from a population in British Columbia to Olympic National Park in 2008. In two years, the National Park Service, an organization called Conservation Northwest and WDFW had released 90 fishers. A biologist with WDFW, Jeff Lewis, said that the marten-like animals have successfully reproduced there, according to the HCN article.

Some of this conservation work isn't just a simple case of moving animals across borders. Conservation Northwest is paying Canadian fur trappers $600 each for live fishers, which is much more than they would earn for a pelt. Then the mustelids are moved to Washington and fitted with a tracking device.

In the next two years, the plan is to free 80 fishers into Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mount Rainier National Park. After that, the agencies and organizations will start releasing fishers in the North Cascades, according to the HCN article.

"As we protect more land, we can go to the next level and start bringing back some of the wildlife that's characteristic to the state," said Dave Werntz at Conservation Northwest, which spent more than $80,000 on the fisher program, according to the HCN article. "It's a marvelous time we're living in."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales (Scroll down for video)

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