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Scientific Name: Pekania pennanti

Federal Status: None for fishers in Washington State

Washington State Status: In Washington, this species is listed as endangered by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Federal Listing Status History:  A west coast distinct population segment of the fisher was accorded federal candidate status in April 2004.  That west coast distinct population segment of the fisher was proposed for listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in October of 2014.  On April 14, 2016, the USFWS issued a finding that the fisher does not require the protection of the Endangered Species Act.  On September 21, 2018, a United States District Court set aside the USFWS’s withdrawal of the October 2014 proposed rule for the west coast distinct population of fisher and ordered USFWS to revisit that decision.  On November 7, 2019, the USFWS published a new proposed rule for fishers, but this time revised the west coast distinct population segment to clarify which fishers comprise the most appropriate distinct population segment.  The new boundaries for the west coast distinct population segment of fishers do not include Washington State.

  • Description and Life History

    The fisher, a member of the weasel family (Mustelidae), has a long body, short legs and a long, bushy tail. The head is broad and flat with a sharp, pronounced muzzle. The ears of a fisher are broad, rounded, and low. Fur color varies from light brown to dark blackish brown, although the face, neck, and shoulders may have a lighter grizzled gray appearance. Adults range in length from roughly 2.5 to 4 feet. Males weigh 7 to 13 pounds; females weigh about 3 to 5.5 pounds. It is estimated that fishers live up to 10 years. Retractable claws and the ability to rotate their large feet allow fishers to run down trees head first like a squirrel. Central pads on the hind paws have circular patches of coarse hair which are associated with plantar glands. These glands produce a distinctive odor believed to be used for communication to enhance reproduction. Fishers are generally solitary animals except during the breeding season which typically occurs from late February through April. Implantation is delayed up to ten months, resulting in births nearly 1 year after copulation. Fishers have a low annual reproductive capacity, and reproductive rates may fluctuate widely from year to year. Fishers are opportunistic predators. Their diet includes birds, porcupines, snowshoe hare, squirrels, mice, shrews, voles, reptiles, insects, carrion, vegetation, and fruit.

    Historical Status and Current Trends

    Historically, fishers occurred in northern coniferous and mixed forests of Canada and the northern United States. Their range extended from the mountainous areas in the southern Yukon and Labrador Provinces southward to central California and Wyoming, the Great Lakes and Appalachian regions, and New England. Currently, the distribution of the fisher has retracted significantly throughout most but not all of the United States. Historical habitat loss (timber harvest and development) is considered the primary cause of fisher decline across the United States. However, in Washington where considerable habitat remains, over-trapping and indiscriminate predator control from the early-1800s to the mid-twentieth century is the likely cause of the severe decline in fisher populations. Several distinct population segments of fisher in the United States have been evaluated under the Endangered Species Act as a result of these range contractions and historical and current threats to the species. In Washington, fishers historically occurred in most forested habitats, including those both east and west of the Cascade Crest and on the Olympic Peninsula. Due to a lack of recent sightings or trapping reports, the fisher was considered to be extirpated in Washington by the turn of the 20th century. Between December 2007 and February 2010, WDFW, the National Park Service, and other partners captured 90 fishers in British Columbia (50 females and 40 males) and released them into Olympic National Park.  Although fishers on the Olympic Peninsula are now broadly distributed and reproduction has been documented, it is still too early to determine if the reintroduced population is successful.  Starting in 2015, WDFW, the National Park Service, Conservation Northwest, and other partners have been reintroducing fishers to the Washington Cascades as well.  To date, 73 fishers have been released in the South Cascades and 49 fishers have been released in the North Cascades.


    Late-successional coniferous or mixed forests that contain key habitat and structural components are the most suitable fisher habitat because they provide abundant potential den sites, rest sites, and preferred prey species. Key habitat components include relatively large diameter trees, high canopy closure, large trees (hardwood and conifer) with cavities, and large downed wood. Younger forests, in which complex forest structural components such as large logs and snags, and tree cavities are maintained in significant numbers, may also be suitable for fishers. However, intensive forest management does not typically retain key habitat and structural components. Therefore, early and mid-successional forests, especially those that have resulted from prior timber harvest, are unlikely to provide the same prey resources, protection from predators, and rest and den sites as more mature forests.

    Conservation Efforts

    The habitat needs of fishers in Washington are supported by three National Parks, four National Forests, six Habitat Conservation Plans, several tribal nations, and more than three million acres of non-Federal lands enrolled in a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances for fisher. Continued implementation of the Northwest Forest Plan is expected to provide a network of connected reserves of late successional forest habitat and a substantial improvement in current habitat conditions for the fisher on Federal lands. WDFW is continuing to work with partners to establish fisher populations in the Cascades in pursuit of fisher recovery as described in WDFW’s recovery plan for fishers. 

    References and Links


    2004 Feasibility Study for Reintroducing Fishers to Washington

    2006 Washington State Fisher Recovery Plan

    2013 Implementation Plan for Reintroducing Fishers to the Cascades

    2014 Federal Proposed Rule

    2019 Revised Proposed Rule for West Coast Distinct Population Segment of Fisher

    WDFW Fisher Webpage (Resource for Reintroduction Project Updates and CCAA information)

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