Back in 2000 while hiking the hills at our Allegany County camp I was fortunate to experience a close encounter with a fisher. I marveled at the beast for a good 10 minutes while he climbed fallen trees in search of his prey. It was the first one I had ever seen and a completely unexpected sight – back then, state wildlife officials didn’t count them as Western New York residents and their appearances were chalked up as rare transient visits.
Fast forward 15 years. Fishers have staked a claim to WNY and breeding populations exist throughout our counties that border Pennsylvania. Fishers can now be found far to the north on occasion, too. You might remember the large specimen that a motorist found dead roadside just outside of Brockport in 2011; it was the first fisher sighting in Monroe County in over a century.
Because of the expansion of the animal’s range, the Department of Environmental Conservation has changed its tune about fishers on this end of the state and last week issued the draft of a state-wide fisher management plan that covers the years 2015-2025. It can be downloaded as a 51-page PDF at tinyurl.com/fisherDEC
In their accompanying press release, the DEC said there were two goals to the plan: One, to maintain or enhance fisher populations in all areas of the state where suitable habitat exists and, two, provide for the sustainable use and enjoyment of fishers by the public.
I’m sorry, but you can’t have the first goal in WNY while simultaneously pursuing the second. But, that is exactly what the DEC is trying to do.
Starting this year, the DEC would like to bring the trapping of fishers to the region. Trappers in Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, and Allegany Counties would be given a 9-day season during which they could harvest one fisher. In 2018, the DEC would further evaluate the expansion of the creature’s range and possibly expand the harvest to more northern wildlife management units.
Trapping of the animals is counterintuitive to the DEC’s first goal of enhancing fisher populations. Although there has been a significant increase in their numbers, fishers are still truly uncommon in WNY. Despite all my time in the woods of the Southern Tier I still have yet to see another. The DEC even states in their plan that they have gleaned only 631 confirmed fisher observations in Central and Western New York since 2005. In a special survey of bowhunters (outdoorsmen who spend a lot of time in the woods), there were 505 confirmed and unconfirmed sightings of the critters from that same territory over the past 7 years. Those numbers don’t scream abundance.
It would be unfortunate were fishers to be harvested in any number. They are one of the more interesting animals you’ll encounter in the woods. They are a large member of the weasel family, and their size and habits put them somewhere between the short-tailed weasel and the wolverine. They are long-bodied and long-tailed just as you would imagine a weasel to be. They have a luxurious brown, almost black, coat. Counting the tail, a female fisher can be 3 feet long and weigh around 6 pounds. Males are considerably larger and can be almost 4 feet long and over 12 pounds in weight.
They are voracious omnivores and are one of the few predators capable of killing porcupines. It was once believed that fishers flipped the thorny animals over and ripped apart their underbelly. Instead, they repeatedly bite porkies’ faces and necks – staying clear of the quills -- and kill them that way. Because of that, fishers have been a Godsend at our camp as the porcupine populations have tanked over the past decade. Not only can porcupines be bothersome by destroying property (gnawing on trailers and cabins), but they can be dangerous: They will often chew the undercarriage of vehicles to get at salt residue. That can result in destroyed brake lines. Now we have something that can keep them in check.
We don’t need Man to keep fishers in check, too. They are too few in WNY and we should allow them to really flourish before harvests are even considered.
The DEC is accepting public comment on their plan until March 30th. You can send your thoughts to NYSDEC Bureau of Wildlife, Fisher Management Plan, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4754 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org (type "Fisher Plan" in the subject line).
From the 23 February 2015 Lockport Union Sun and Journal