Something’s fishy in the forest
By Ryan Reed
Back in my earliest days at Penn State, I recall learning about a relatively recent reintroduction effort of a species long lost in Pennsylvania. Casualties of our exploitative past, the charismatic fisher (Pekania pennanti) was driven from the state primarily because of deforestation. Fast-forward about a century or so, and the fisher is once again thriving in the commonwealth.
Resulting from the reintroduction efforts of the PA Game Commission, Penn State, and DCNR, as well as from natural expansion from New York and West Virginia, fishers are now well-established in Penn’s Woods. Trappers can even harvest one per year with the proper tag.
The first time I ever saw one in the wild was at my camp near Trough Creek State Park. It was late in the deer rifle season when one came bounding down the mountain, hopped up onto a log, and ran the length to the bottom. It then hopped down and scurried out of sight. Illuminated in the sunlight, its rich brown fur looked warm and sleek. Observing this new species in my forest was quite memorable.
My next sighting would occur about five years later, or two weeks ago to be more precise. It appeared quickly from below and seemed to be on a mission. The fisher jumped up on a tangled mass of blown-down trees and vines, then just as quickly ran down and pounced into a brush pile. Out the other side ran a terrified chipmunk, which dove into another brush pile and disappeared. Almost like a child who’s had too much sugar, the fisher ran back up the logs and looked directly at me in my tree stand. With the chipmunk out of the picture, I couldn’t help but think that I was now on his (or her) list of potential meals.
It quickly made its way to the bottom of my tree and peered up at me, appearing to contemplate a charge. That is when my instincts kicked in, as I bared my teeth and snarled menacingly. Probably noting our obvious size difference, the approximately 15-pound fisher loped out of sight.
It’s always a win for biodiversity when predators make a return to their former ranges. Although they really aren’t fish eaters, fishers are efficient predators and very opportunistic when it comes to meals, serving an important ecological role by helping to control small prey that can become over-abundant. Needless to say, I’m glad I’m not small prey, and happy to have the opportunity to see them in our forests.
If you wish to learn more about fishers in Pennsylvania, please click the link:
About the Author
Ryan Reed is an Environmental Education Specialist in the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Forestry. He possesses degrees in Wildlife and Fisheries Science and Wildlife Technology, while currently pursuing a master’s degree in Environmental Pollution Control. He has also worked for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and taught high school sciences for 11 years. He is especially interested in biodiversity and ecology. A lifelong hunting and fishing enthusiast, Ryan resides in Harrisburg, PA.
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