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Tracking Fishers from Above

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Tracking Fishers from Above
June 4, 2018

Deep in the forests of Mount Rainier National Park, a female fisher holes up in the crook of a towering Douglas fir, protecting and feeding her newborn kits.
Far below and several miles away, a propeller spins faster and faster, generating the speed needed to hurl a small aircraft down an airstrip and into the Northwest skies. The plane’s belly and wings bristle with antennae as it heads off on a mission to pinpoint the fisher’s location using signals from a transmitter implanted before her release.

This is a fisher reconnaissance mission, funded with the donations made by Northwest Trek Wildlife Park members, visitors and Foundation last summer to aid the small, swift predators in the Cascade Range.“This is exciting,” said Northwest Trek Conservation Program Coordinator Rachael Mueller, who will spend hours in the tiny aircraft, listening for the beeps that indicate a fisher’s location. “The monitoring we’re doing is a key component to help determine if the Fisher Recovery project is successful.”

Once the fisher’s location is locked into global positioning systems, scientists on the ground hike into the forest searching for the den. If they find it, they affix cameras to trees in the area, hoping to capture photographs of the budding fisher family’s activity.

Northwest Trek is partnering with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, the National Park Service and Conservation Northwest in the effort to restore fishers to one of their natural ranges. The members of the weasel family went extinct in the area a century ago, falling victim to fur trappers and deforestation.

Fishers were transplanted to Mount Rainier National Park and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest from British Columbia in 2015 and 2016. The animals play an important role in maintaining forest health and biodiversity. In part by controlling populations of porcupines and other rodents.

“The data gathered from aircraft monitoring and ground surveillance helps us learn whether the fishers are thriving and breeding, and where and how far they’re moving,” Mueller said.

The work can be pretty intense, but Mueller says she enjoys every minute.

“It’s rewarding to play a role in bringing the fisher back from extinction to its rightful home in the forests of Washington,” she said. “Wand it’s the kind of conservation work that is central to the mission of Northwest Trek.”

-Kris Sherman, Northwest Trek

Check back soon for photos and video!