Rewilding is a concept much in vogue among wildlife conservationists. As some habitats are better protected and even expanding, wildlife advocates search for ways to reintroduce native species to the recovery process. This month Washington state wildlife officials released seven fishers, Martes pennanti, into Gifford Pinchot National Forest in the South Cascades where they have benn mission for more than seventy years. A member of the weasel family, fishers were wiped out in Washington by the mid-1990s. Prized by trappers for their lush fur, the state belatedly declared the species endangered in 1998. After planning and consultation the Washington state wildlife department began relocating fishers from British Columbia to the old growth forest in Olympic National Park in 2008. A total of 90 animals were released, and according to state biologists the mustelids have dispersed and reproduced successfully in the wild.
After a successful reintroduction, attention turned to other suitable forest habitats. Canadian fur trappers are paid $600 for each animal, considerably more than what the would receive for just a pelt. The large weasels are fed donated roadkill in an animal sanctuary where their health is evaluated and they are implanted with a tracking device. Washington plans to release a total of 80 fishers into Gifford Pinchot and Mount Rainier national parks in the next two years, then move on to the North Cascades. The fisher is currently proposed for inclusion on the federal Endangered Species Act through its range, but the reintroductions in Washington seem headed toward repopulating the northwest's forests with their characteristic mammalian species after being devastated by mans' greed. Fishers are relatively small and do not create much opposition from exploiters of public lands. The crunch will come when wildlife advocates attempt to return the grizzly bear to northwest forests.