Last Summer (2010), my friend Roger and I were driving out of the Forks of the Kern on Forest Road 22S82. It was low light and as we looked ahead a rather large animal with a long bushy tail came scrambling down the embankment to the road. It turned to look at us and we starred at each other for a few moments. The animal turned around and headed back into the brush. It looked like a weasel but so much larger. The body was about 3 feet long as was the tail. And, the body appeared to stand about 15 inches high.
Roger recognized it immediately, "That's a Pacific Fisher!!". I replied, "It looks like a giant weasel." Roger said, "It's related to the Pine Martin and it's the largest species within the weasel family. Let's look it up when we get back to the cabin."
So, we went on the internet and found out that the Pacific Fisher has a resident population within the Southern Sierra. It has also been the subject to a great debate over the last few years concerning Endangered Species protection, the Calif. Dept of Fish and Game, and Forest Management concerns.
The Pacific Fisher once inhabited an area from the Southern Sierra to British Columbia. The animal were so heavily trapped during the 1800's and early 1900's that a major study undertaken by UC Berkeley researchers, Grinnel et al., in 1937, helped to prohibit all trapping of these animals after 1946. Grinnel had inferred that most of the reduction in Pacific Fisher numbers were due to trapping but that loss of habitat through logging had also played a role.
Today, the Pacific Fisher is found within two distinct groups, a Northern California population and a Southern Sierra population. There is a 270 mile separation between these two groups. This distribution has not changed since the 1920's and natural recolonization of their historic range has not occurred.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Forest Legacy and other groups first petitioned to have the Pacific Fisher protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2001. In 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the Pacific Fisher warrants protection as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) but refused to finalize such protection. On March 2010, The California Fish and Game denied an endangered designation of the species as being "unwarranted". Based upon the study conducted in 2008 by the California Dept of Fish and Game, the California Fish and Game Commission voted 3-1 on June 23, 2010 in favor of California DFG's decision not to list the Pacific Fisher. The States of Oregon and Washington did put the Pacific Fisher on their Endangered List as the actual numbers of Fishers is very small.
The Pacific Fisher prefers late succession Forests, sometimes referred to as Old Growth Forests. They feed on birds, snowshoe hares, squirrels, mice, shrews, voles, porcupines, reptiles, insects, carrion, vegetation, and fruit. They are solitary mammals with a low reproductive capacity. They will roam an area of 50-150 sq. miles and will live to about ten years of age.
Recent studies have shown that the population of Pacific Fishers has remained stable, yet at risk, within the Southern Sierra but that the rest of the Sierra has become devoid of the animal. Trapping remains prohibited but development of the Sierra through roads, housing, and human activity have kept the Fisher from repopulating these areas. The Southern Sierra is unique in that development has been very restricted due to terrain. It's a wild area that allows a wonderful animal such as the Pacific Fisher to find a home. If you're flyfishing the Southern Sierra, keep your eye out for an elusive bushy tail.