Conserve Wildlife Blog

Resurgence of New Jersey’s Fishers

March 22nd, 2016

After more than a century, fishers are returning to New Jersey

by Kendall Miller, Communications Intern

Fisher photo by Josh More via Flickr Creative Commons.

Fisher photo by Josh More via Flickr Creative Commons.

 

New Jersey’s forests lost a charismatic top predator when the fisher was extirpated nearly a century ago. Exploitation of the fisher for its pelt — coupled with excessive logging practices during the 19th and 20th centuries — caused decimated populations of this North American native across its entire range. However, through the implementation of conservation practices, this small, yet spunky forest carnivore is experiencing a comeback.

 

Despite its past disappearance from the state, the combined effects of trapping bans and nearby relocation projects (New York and Pennsylvania) are resulting in the fisher’s resurgence in New Jersey. Within the last decade, the return of fishers to New Jersey has been an exciting new possibility, with multiple reported sightings, photos caught via trail camera and anecdotal stories by the public.

 

Recently, two trappings by state officials in North Jersey, both within a mere month of one another, mark the return of fishers to the state of New Jersey, and speaks for the potential future of this species, as well as others.

 

What exactly is a fisher?

Source: Canadian Geographic

Source: Canadian Geographic

Found only in North America, fishers historically inhabited forested and semi-forested land from coast to coast, ranging from Virginia to Quebec in the east. Found in deciduous, coniferous and mixed forests, they prefer areas with dense canopy cover, and tend to avoid areas with human disturbances.

 

Also referred to as the fisher cat and Appalachian black cat, this animal looks like fluffy cat meets fox, with a wolverine-like disposition. However, it is neither a feline nor does it catch fish. The fisher (Martes pennanti) is a member of the Mustelidae family, which includes otters, badgers, martens, ferrets, minks, wolverines and more.

 

The fisher is a long bodied and short legged animal, with a bushy tail that makes up a third of its total body length. There is a substantial size sexual dimorphism between males and females. Males weigh 8-13 pounds and reach lengths between 35-47 inches. Females weigh between 3 and 7 pounds and are between 30-37 inches long. Males have grizzled fur due to blonde guard hairs on their neck and shoulders, while females are a uniform chocolate brown.

 

A generalist carnivore species, a fisher will eat anything it can catch — typically small- to medium-sized mammals and birds. Carrion and some nuts and fruits also make up a portion of its diet. They are known to eliminate weak or injured deer, especially in times of heavy snow pack.

 

While its diet may be general, one part is very special: this is the only predator of porcupines in the country. The prickly defenses of the porcupine protect it against almost all predators except the fisher, who has developed a special way of hunting its prey. It will chase a porcupine up a tree until it can go no further and falls. Then, it will make a head-first descent down the tree with the help of semi-retractable claws and feet that can turn nearly 180 degrees. The fall stuns the porcupine, allowing the fisher to access the unprotected underside.

 

These predators share prey with coyotes, bobcats, foxes and even raptors, creating competition with these species. Fishers have been known to travel hundreds of miles to meet their dietary needs, able to cross water if need be.

 

They live a solitary life-style, with home ranges between 1-3 square miles, seldom overlapping, which suggests territoriality. They are found to be active at any point during the day or night. Fishers make homes in dens year round, using a variety of forest resources such as tree hollows, stumps, debris piles, natural crevices and underground tunnels. Females with litters will use tree hollows that are far off the ground.

 

Fishers themselves have no natural enemies and few disease occurrences. Trapping by humans and vehicle collisions likely account for the majority of deaths throughout their range.

 

Learn More:

 

Kendall Miller is the Communications Intern for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

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