Species Spotlight: Fisher

© Fisher by Clay Spencer

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, trapping for fur, loss of habitat from logging, and hunting by farmers nearly eliminated the fisher in New York State (and the Northeast). But over time, forest managers realized that this animal is needed to control populations of herbivorous porcupines — which when left unchecked can damage trees, vegetation, and entire forests.

Fishers were reintroduced to the Shawangunk Ridge and the Catskills in the 1970s. The fisher is a true “indicator species” because both its presence and absence reflects the health of the places in which it lives.

Looks like: Similar in size to a fox, the fisher has short legs, rounded ears and large feet. Its color is dark brown, but lighter in late winter. Males can weigh up to 12 pounds and are twice as long as females, which weigh less than 6 pounds.

Lives in: Coniferous and mixed forests with continuous canopy. Fisher make dens under stumps and in hollow logs, rock shelters, brush piles, holes, beaver lodges, and snow.

Niche: Fisher prey on snowshoe hare, but also eat porcupine, carrion, birds, small mammals, and some plants.

Threats: Trapping for fur and loss of forest habitat from heavy logging and development.

Frequency: Uncommon

Reproduction: Mating occurs in late March or early April. Fertilized eggs remain dormant for several months, and implantation does not occur until February. Litters can have up to 6 pups.

Fun Facts: The fisher is the largest member of the weasel family in New York State. It has retractable claws and feet that can swivel around, making it an excellent tree climber.

The Fisher is the only animal to consistently prey upon porcupine; it lies low enough to reach the unprotected underbelly and repeatedly bites the face until the porcupine is weak enough to roll over.

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