Facilitating the protection and restoration of endangered species and ecological communities on BC’s South Coast

Length: 84 cm – 1.2m, Weight: Males 2.7-5.4 kg, Females 1.4-3.2 kg. Like other Mustelids (weasels, otters, mink etc.), Fisher have a long slender body and a luxuriant pelage (fur). The coat is dense, dark brown to black with white tipped areas around the shoulders and back giving it a “grizzled” appearance. The tail is long and bushy, the face pointed, ears rounded, legs strong and short with heavy claws for climbing and digging. Front and rear feet have five digits, with a C-shaped palm pad curving away from the toes. The track pattern is similar to Mink and Marten but larger. Prints are wider than long, 5 cm wide on dirt, to more than 6.7 cm on snow, claws visible. As with other members of the weasel family Fisher have a gait that results in the hind foot overlapping with the front, resulting in twin paw prints one slightly ahead of the other. An agile climber, tracks may end abruptly at the base of a tree.

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Status

Global Status: 
G5
Provincial Status: 
S3
BC List Status: 
Blue (Considered to be of Special Concern)

Similar Species

The smaller and more common Pacific and American Marten (Martes caurina/M.americana)which overlap in range with the Fisher are the species' most often mistaken for a Fisher. The largest member of the mustelid family, the Wolverine overlaps in habitat with the Fisher as well, and while significantly larger and less arboreal may also be misidentified as a Fisher.

Ecology

Range

Elevation: up to 2500 m but usually <1000 m. Although present throughout B.C., Fisher are considered rare in coastal areas where any remaining populations are associated with low to mid-elevation, relatively intact, mature forested areas. Distribution on the Coast Region likely ranges from upland areas in the Howe Sound – Squamish and Lillooet Valleys, north up the South, Central and North Coast areas and then east into the Boreal Plains and Central Interior.

Habitat

Fishers utilize habitat features both on the ground and in trees and can be active day and night. A mix of young and mature forests as well as late seral (old growth) forests with >30% canopy is preferred. This species will exploit newer second growth forests where sufficient canopy cover, structural components and prey are available. An abundance of large coarse woody debris (>28 cm in diameter), snags (50 cm in diameter for denning), and at least 20% shrub cover, particularly in riparian and dense forested wetland areas is essential. The natal den is usually in a hollow tree although Fisher will use underground dens if a better location is not available. In British Columbia female Fishers appear to give birth and rear kits exclusively in large diameter, declining black cottonwood or balsam poplar trees. Indirect and direct impacts to den sites can occur from logging, removal of standing, dead and downed wood, and encroachment or disturbance from backcountry or off-road vehicle and ATV use.

Diet

This species is an opportunistic omnivore, consuming a variety of foods and prey items including birds, small mammals, nuts, and fruits. Fisher is one of the few predators that feed on North American Porcupine and will also hunt Snowshoe Hare.

Life Cycle

Breeding takes place in the spring but implantation is delayed. Fertilized eggs do not become attached to the female's uterus until the following January after breeding, after which the growth of the litter begins.

Threats

Loss of forested habitat and critical features such as denning sites is considered the main long-term threat to Fisher populations throughout its range.
Increase in access associated with forest harvesting may increase targeted and incidental trapping and subsequent mortality, possibly diminishing local populations. Trapping can also alter the balance of reproductive age adults in local populations, pot
Resource based and extractive land use activities (e.g. logging, gas, oil and mineral exploration and extraction, hydro projects, recreational and backcountry uses) which contribute to the fragmentation, loss or significant alteration of critical habita
Fisher are particularly sensitive to disturbance from motorized backcountry recreational activities, which increase as backcountry areas become opened up after logging or similar resource extraction activities occur.
In the US Pacific Northwest, use of pesticides (i.e anticoagulant rodenticides) especially in forestry operations and illegal marijuana plantations are an emerging threat. Fishers are attracted to the rodenticide laced baits and or eat affected rodents

Conservation and Management

Apply conservation and management objectives as set out in the Identified Wildlife Provisions for this species found in “Accounts and Measures for Managing Identified Wildlife – Accounts V. 2004 Fisher Martes pennanti and in the “Status of the Fisher in British Columbia”. Integrate complimentary objectives and practices found in “Wildlife Guidelines for Backcountry Tourism/Commercial Recreation in British Columbia”. Inventory and monitor using standardized methods found in Resource Information Standards Committee #24: Inventory Methods for Marten and Weasels Version 2.0. New learning outcomes and research for Fishers in BC can be found through the BC Fisher Habitat Working Group (see link). This species is Identified Wildlife under the BC Forest and Range Practices Act and subject to protections and prohibitions under the BC Wildlife Act. Trapping for Fisher is closed due to conservation concerns, trappers are encouraged to notify and submit any incidentally killed fisher to the nearest Ministry of Environment office. Habitat for this species may also be governed under provincial and federal regulations including the Fish Protection Act and Federal Fisheries Act as well as Regional and local municipal bylaws.

RESOURCES

For further information see:

Sources

Badry, M. 2004. [Internet] Accounts and Measures for Managing Identified Wildlife – Accounts V. 2004 Fisher Martes pennanti.

B.C. Conservation Data Centre. 2010. [Internet] [Updated April 20 2005] Conservation Status Report: Martes pennanti. B.C. MoE.

BC Ministry of Environment. 2006. [Internet] Wildlife Guidelines for Backcountry Tourism/Commercial Recreation in British Columbia

Cannings, S.G., L.R. Ramsay, D.F. Fraser, and M.A. Fraker. 1999. {Internet] Rare amphibians, reptiles, and mammals of British Columbia.

Wildl. Branch and Resour. Inv. Branch, B.C. Minist. Environ., Lands and Parks, Victoria, BC. 198pp.

Hatler, David et al. 2003. [Internet]. Furbearer Management Guidelines for the Fisher Martes pennanti in British Columbia. Prepared for the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, Habitat Conservation Trust Fund (HCTF) and British Columbia Trappers Association.

Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks Resources Inventory Branch. [Internet]. 1998. Inventory Methods for Martens & Weasels v 2.0

Polster, D. et al. 2006. [Internet] Develop with Care: Environmental Guidelines for Urban and Rural Land Development in British Columbia. Prepared for the BC Ministry of Environment. Victoria (BC).

Proulx, Gilbert et al. 2003. A Field Guide to Species at Risk in the Coast Forest Region of British Columbia. Published by International Forest Products and BC Ministry of Environment. Victoria (BC).

Seimears, Tracy et al. [date unknown] [Internet] Fisher (Martes Pennanti) Habitat in Cedar River Watershed. University of Washington. College of The Environment School Of Forest Resources Environmental Science and Resource Management (course 450).

The Fisher Habitat Working Group (BC). [internet accessed July 2017]. ]

Weir, R.D. 2003. [ Internet] Status of the Fisher in British Columbia. B.C. Minist. Sustainable Resour. Manage. Conservation Data Centre, and B.C. Minist. Water, Land and Air Protection, Biodiversity Branch, Victoria, BC. Wildl. Bull. No. B-105. 38pp.

Weir, R.D. and P.L. Almuedo. 2010. [Internet] British Columbia’s Interior: Fisher Wildlife Habitat Decision Aid. BC Journal of Ecosystems and Management 10(3):35–41.

Credits

Prepared by: Pamela Zevit of Adamah Consultants for the South Coast Conservation Program (SCCP) in partnership with: International Forest Products (Interfor), Capacity Forestry (CapFor) and the BC Ministry of Environment (BC MoE). This project was originally funded through the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI): http://www.sfiprogram.org/. Updates are supported through the Government of Canada's Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk.

Every effort has been made to ensure content accuracy. Comments or corrections should be directed to the South Coast Conservation Program: info@sccp.ca. Content updated July 2017.