A relative of the mink and otter, the fisher is a beautiful forest carnivore with dark fur covering its slender body short legs and long bushy tail. Unlike dogs or cats, the fisher's feet sit flat on the ground much like a human's foot.

Contrary to its name, the fisher does not eat fish. American settlers may have confused the fisher with the European polecat, which is called the fitch ferret, fichet or fitche, and then mistakenly translated it as "fisher". Instead of fish, the fisher has a diverse diet, preying on small mammals, snowshoe hare, porcupine, birds, carrion, fruit and truffles. Because it is the only animal that regularly preys on porcupines, which often kill or damage small trees, the timber industry reintroduced the fisher to many parts of the U.S., including the southern Cascades of Oregon. The fisher kills porcupines with repeated bites to the face, then devours them via the quill-less underbelly. Where fisher reintroductions have been successful, porcupines have indeed declined in number.


A combination of logging, historic trapping for its fur and other factors led to a severe contraction of the fisher's range across the United States and Canada (map of the fisher's historic and current range). In the eastern United States, the fisher recovered much of its range, as a result of strict trapping regulations, return of forest from abandoned farmlands and reintroductions. In the western United States, however, the fisher has not successfully re-inhabited the majority of its range, despite cessation of trapping. In particular, the fisher has been driven to near extinction in its West Coast Range, including western Oregon and Washington and the Sierra Nevada and North Coast/Klamath Regions of California.

Because of the fisher's precarious status, the Center has filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the fisher as an "endangered species" in its West Coast Range. Endangered status for the fisher requires protection for old-growth forests, benefiting the entire ecosystem. It would also provide additional funding for research and boost efforts to reintroduce the fisher into parts of its range where it no longer occurs.


Severe loss and fragmentation of habitat caused by logging has lead to the near extinction of the fisher from its West Coast Range. The fisher is closely associated with large, contiguous blocks of mature and old-growth forest. Logging and development have caused severe loss and fragmentation of old-growth forests and now as little as 15% remain in California, Oregon and Washington. Because the fisher cannot fly over logged areas, it is many ways more sensitive to fragmentation of old forests than the spotted owl. As a result, current management plans, such as the Northwest Forest Plan, that were designed primarily for the spotted owl, marbled murrelet and salmon are inadequate to ensure the survival and recovery of the fisher.

Fischer Habitat: Mixed Conifer Late-Successional ForestOn the West Coast, only three small, isolated fisher populations remain, including native populations in northern California and the southern Sierra Nevada and a reintroduced population in the southern Oregon Cascades. The small size and isolation of remaining fisher populations in combination with continued habitat loss from logging and development places the fisher in immediate danger of extinction. Indeed, two leading fisher researchers concluded:

"Establishing the reasons for the precarious status of the fisher populations in the Pacific Northwest may not be as important in the short term as making people aware of the status and providing federal protection for the populations. That the populations appear dangerously low should be sufficient to generate protection; discussions and research into the reasons should occur after protection. In our opinion, protection by the states of Washington, Oregon and California has not been sufficient to improve population status."
Powell, R. A., and W. J. Zielinski. 1994. Fisher. In L. F. Ruggiero, K. B. Aubry, S. W. Buskirk, L. J. Lyon, & W. J. Zielinski (Eds.), The scientific basis for conserving forest carnivores--American marten, fisher, lynx, and \ wolverine--in the western United States (pp. 38-73). Fort Collins, CO: USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station.

Joining the Center on the petition are the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, American Lands, Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, Environmental Protection Information Center, Forest Interest Group, Friends of the Kalmiopsis, Klamath Forest Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Plumas Forest Project, Predator Conservation Alliance, Siskiyou Project, Siskiyou Action Project, Yosemite Area Audubon.

graphic Andrew Rodman ©2002
August 20, 2003
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