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Nature Nut: Once-elusive fishers are becoming a more common catch

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This fisher recently was caught on a game-cam in the West Concord area.
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When I got the photo sent from a birding friend, he didn’t name the animal, giving everyone he sent it to a chance to guess what the furry creature was. I was thinking possibly marten, fisher or maybe even wolverine, as I couldn’t tell how big it was from the photo.

The photo came from someone who had gotten the picture on a game-cam near West Concord. Another email from a DNR researcher confirmed it was a fisher, and included pictures of a family of fishers taken last summer near the Mississippi River and Caledonia.

Fishers are mammals in the mustelid family, the largest family of carnivores including weasels, mink, otters, badgers, wolverines, martens and others. Males and females look similar, but males are larger, weighing as much as 13 pounds, compared to a large female at 6 pounds. Their fur is glossier and denser in winter, which I would assume is time of prime value.

I am confident I never have seen a fisher in the wild and, given they don’t do well in captivity, doubt I have seen one in a cage or enclosure. But I learned a lot about fishers in a conversation with John Erb, a DNR furbearer/wolf researcher located in Grand Rapids.

John indicated fisher sightings have been on the increase in southeastern Minnesota, with 32 reported south of the Twin Cities since 2005. He sees a trend for increased fisher numbers in the Southeast, especially close to the Mississippi River.

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John noted, "Fishers are a pretty diverse predator, both adept on ground and in trees at eating small rodents, squirrels, hares and rabbits." They also are one of the few predators of porcupines, with some stories of trapping and transplanting fishers into forested areas to reduce porcupine numbers, as they feed heavily on tree bark.

An 8-year study John and colleagues did, radio-tagging 125 fishers and closely related martens, gave them valuable insights. They found the smaller females more susceptible to predation, especially by bobcats, as they often compete for the same food while trying to raise their young.

They also found bobcat numbers increasing while fishers are decreasing, in large part because of forestry practices that are favoring young forests. Fishers tend to like old-growth forests in part because they use cavities in large trees for shelter and raising young. John said they work with DNR foresters to try to provide habitat for fishers.

Fisher pelts were highly prized in the early 1900s, with some bringing more than $2,000 in today’s dollars. But, similar to others in their family, fishers were all but wiped out in northern forests of the U.S. because of trapping. Fortunately, they have made a recovery in some areas and continue expanding their current range, evidenced in part by the sightings mentioned above.

With state fisher numbers declining since 2000, trapping allowed in northern Minnesota has been reduced in recent years to 16 days and only two fishers per trapper. Unfortunately, of the 32 fishers reported south of the Cities, seven were "incidentally" trapped, a problem inherent with trapping.

Hopefully, fishers will continue to find remaining old-growth forests in Southeast Minnesota to their liking, and once again inhabit our landscape.

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Fishers tend to like old-growth forests in part because they make homes in cavities of large trees.

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