Biologists Can’t Find Fishers in Wyoming
JACKSON, Wyo. — Biologists looking for the elusive fisher, a large cousin of the weasel, have come up empty-handed in the Wyoming neck of the Northern Rockies.
Habitat models predict that the fisher’s range extends well into Teton and Park counties, and south to the very northwest tip of Fremont County. That caused the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to lead a search for the mustelid, which was recently, but is no longer, a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
“We didn’t find any (fishers),” Game and Fish nongame biologist Bob Oakleaf said. “What we did find is (pine) marten everywhere.”
Using a $23,000 state wildlife grant, Game and Fish personnel last year searched the Sunlight Basin, near the Beartooth Mountains, just to the east of Yellowstone National Park. In January 1995, a fisher was photographed by a remote camera near this area Remote cameras are the primary method used to find the critters.
Game and Fish isn’t quite sure where it will spend a $31,500 wild life grant to try to find the fisher this year, Oakleaf said. The North Fork of the Shoshone River near Cody is a possibility, he said, but a search of Teton County isn’t being considered.
Game and Fish’s 2010 “Wyoming State Wildlife Action plan” suggests that Teton County south to about Jackson Lake and Buffalo Valley is fisher habitat. The state’s plan states that “distribution is suspected to be restricted” and that the species has a spotty distribution in Wyoming.
“Although sightings of the fisher are reported in most mountain ranges,” the Game and Fish document said, “few documented records exist for Wyoming and are limited to the extreme northwestern part of the state.”
There have been only three or four reports of a fisher in Wyoming, and it’s been about a decade since the last sighting, Oakleaf said.
“There was one individual animal collected,” he said. “It was found in a trap in the Big Horns in the ’60s.”
Ranging in weight from about 4 to 13 pounds, fishers are light brown to blackish-brown with a long body, short legs and a long bushy tail.
They look much like a weasel, mink or pine marten and are inhabitants of old growth forests.
After reviewing its status across the Northern Rockies in 2010 and 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded fishers don’t warrant Endangered Species Act protections in Idaho, Montana or Wyoming. A petition filed by four environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, seeking to list Northern Rockies fishers as a “distinct population segment,” prompted the review.
Based on trapping data in Montana, fishers in the Northern Rockies are rarer than lynx and wolverine, both of which are afforded federal protections. They are considered the rarest mammalian carnivore in the ecosystem.
Unlike lynx and wolverines, however, in other parts of the country, including the Great Lakes Region and Northeast, fishers are common and trapped regularly.
It’s not well understood why fishers don’t appear to be inhabiting Wyoming, Oakleaf said.
“Sometimes we don’t know what the factors are that are limiting the range of a species,” he said. “Sometimes we can figure it out and sometimes not.”
Factors such as over-trapping, timber harvesting and habitat fragmentation are considered the historic catalysts for the near elimination of fishers in the Northern Rockies.
Photo courtesy of Mike Hall, shared by Melissa Groo. Thank you!
I saw a fisher stalking my neighbor’s cat here in Wilson, WY for 2 hours. I have pictures.
What a prize! We’d love to see them if you’d like to share. Thanks Cindy!
Julie McIntyre and Tom Vajda saw a fisher at close range for approximately 5 seconds near Jackson Lake on two weeks ago.
Thank you for the report on fishers near Jackson Lake, very exciting! Where exactly where you when you saw the fisher? Was it near the dam or further north?
Saw a Fisher today, 11:30 am, IndianPaintBrush, Wilson. Probably getting water out of a drainage ditch then ran under a vehicle when I came along. I didn’t know what it was till I got home tonight and had a chance to look it up. It was beautiful with a very dark coat and fluffy tail.
Hi Jennifer, We just received you message about a possible fisher sighting. We’d like to talk to you more and to visit your area to investigate. We have had other calls from south of JH, and one was mink, and another a dark-colored marten. Could we contact you by phone?
I believe I saw a fisher in the Pole Mountain section of Medicine Bow National Forest last summer. I was hiking along a stream drainage, investigating beaver ponds when I caught a 3 second glimpse of a chocolate brown weasel-like creature about the size of a large house cat or a raccoon with a long, fluffy tail.
Thanks for sharing, Paula. It could have been a fisher, but without a photo or DNA, we wouldn’t be able to identify. We still haven’t given up hope that every last fisher has been trapped out. Please continue to look for the elusive fisher in Wyoming! We appreciate the contact.
Just saw a fisher cat in the big horn mountains in Wyoming. It was in the back yard outside of Buffalo Wyoming. My wife just saw it again a few hours later in front or our house. I had no idea what it was until I Looked it up on google and it was a positive match of a fisher cat. Will try to get a picture ASAP
Thank you, Gary. How exciting if it could be true. If you can possibly take a photo, that would give us more information. Do you have any old-growth forest near your home, such as old Spruce trees? You can contact us: email@example.com or call 307-201-2422. Good luck!