As fishers are carnivorous cousins of wolverines and predators of porcupines, one may think researchers would be hesitant about tromping through the Gifford Pinchot National Forest to find them.
But for citizen scientists, just catching the rare creature on a game camera would be a thrill — let alone seeing one in person.
The Cascade Forest Conservancy (CFC) is a Vancouver, Washington-based organization with a self-explanatory name. The nonprofit takes on education, advocacy and conservation projects in the forests of Cascadia and the communities connected to them with nine paid employees and many volunteers.
On Saturday, members of the team were rubbing their eyelids and stowing tents in their cars at Iron Creek Campground near Randle as they readied for the day. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., they would split in groups of two or three and head for remote parts of the Gifford Pinchot to collect over 70 motion-triggered game cameras. With the photos, researchers from Oregon State University (OSU) will continue research on the recent reintroduction of fishers. This is the project’s third and final year.
According to the Forest Service, Pacific fishers went locally extinct due to habitat loss and fur-trapping in the early 1900s. Reintroduction efforts by a coalition of tribes, agencies and individuals began around 2010.
Sometimes referred to as “fisher cats” likely due to their house cat size, fishers are in the weasel family.
“We're always interested in having a better understanding of wildlife and biodiversity in general, also, as wildlife and biodiversity relate to forest management. And it's also a great opportunity to engage the public in an on-the-ground science project (and) conservation,” said Shiloh Halsey, CFC director of programs.
Jeff Green, Kim Freeman and Brian Yellin, all of Portland, made up one deployment of data collectors. The three allowed The Chronicle to follow them on their journey into the forest.
Asked what they gain from projects like these, Green said, “It’s just really cool if you love the outdoors. I don’t care if you’re a hunter or logger, camper or backpacker, this is for you.”
After trekking through ferns and vines to reach the first camera, the three noted some observations before loading the device into a backpack. A chicken bone hanging on a wire near the camera has been devoured. There are scratches in the decaying logs nearby.
They’ve yet to catch a fisher on the cameras this weekend; maybe this is the one. Over the course of the study, they've caught them on camera in several different locations.
“(Game cameras) tell us what’s there, what’s in that vicinity over the course of the year. We get information on other creatures, for instance the various fox species. We’ve got information on them and submitted that to various groups that are interested in that particular species. … And we’ll know more in a few weeks as we go through all the photographs.”