The Pacific fisher, a member of the weasel family, is a medium-size forest mammal that lives in mature and old growth forests. Its diet ranges from birds to small mammals to fruit and fungi, and it is one of the only animals clever enough to prey on porcupines.
Endangered in California
Due to habitat degradation and other threatening factors including a low reproductive rate, reduced genetic diversity, predators, disease, and more recently, negative interactions with road traffic and exposure to rodenticide, the Pacific fisher has disappeared from more than half its former range in California. The fisher is listed as a state threatened species in the California, and has proposed for listing as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Studying the Species
To help save this key forest dweller, Yosemite Conservancy in partnership with the National Park Service; the California Department of Fish and Game; University of California, Berkeley; and the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, funded a multiyear study (2009-11) designed to collect data to document the fisher’s distribution, abundance, and range in Yosemite in order to better understand the factors limiting the fisher’s comeback.
Highly advanced remote motion-sensing camera stations were placed in suitable habitat throughout the park to determine fisher presence. These sites included areas both north and south of the Merced River.
The first survey year documented more fisher detections in Yosemite National Park than any previous study, with fisher activity concentrated in the southern portion of the park. The second survey year brought the unprecedented finding of the first documented den tree of a female Pacific fisher with kits (young) in the park. Thanks to Conservancy funding, this study has shed light on the Pacific fisher’s population distribution within Yosemite and played a major role in regional fisher recovery efforts.
Protecting Pacific Fishers
Building on the success of the initial surveys, Conservancy donors continued supporting the protection of this rare mammal in Yosemite by funding additional fisher management and research work. In 2013, a Conservancy-funded project created innovative road-crossing structures by modifying culverts with shelf-style features that allow fishers and other animals to cross roads safely. Fishers often travel through culverts, but are forced onto roads when snowmelt or rain fills the pipes. The new elevated shelf structures ensure that the animals safely navigate roads and avoid vehicle traffic year-round, giving the park’s fisher population a better chance at survival and recovery. Additional funding in 2015 supported further field surveys to study two of Yosemite’s rarest carnivores: the Pacific fisher and the Sierra Nevada red fox.
Photo courtesy of UC Berkeley.