Mammals: Fisher

    It was dusk in the mature evergreen forest and all was quiet and still. The closed tree canopy let in very little light, yet still enough to highlight the chocolate brown fur of the Fisher in the live trap with gold and white. Its large paws showed retractable claws, the air smelled of musk, and the long furry tail was wrapped in a coil. It had been a long winter’s pursuit of the elusive pekan, but finally the researcher’s efforts had come to fruition...

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    The dense moist forests of Kootenai Country Montana are ideal for supporting the Fisher (Martes pennati) and its prey base which may include mice, shrews, tree squirrels, flying squirrels, birds such as grouse and other birds and most importantly, snowshoe hares. This large mustelid, a family of weasels known for their musk gland system inhabit the wilds of northwest Montana. Amongst the large diameter trees and huge blowdown of logs they hunt their prey, often venturing into the tree canopy to hunt. And hunt they can! On the ground they are expert at zoning in on the hares that turn white and blend into the winter snow. With broad paws, foot pads, and retractile claws they can stay on top of snow to harvest the hares. In the trees they are agile climbers with long tails that aid in balance, and uniquely mobile ankle joints in the hind paws that rotate 180-degree enabling them to climb down trees head first.
    Fishers actually do not eat fish, and the name reflects European explorers and early trappers mistakenly identifying this critter as a European polecat. In Dutch, the term fisse, and in French fiche, referred to the polecat. Native Americans used the descriptor Chipewyan, meaning big marten. But the fisher’s diet is diverse, at times includes fruits, berries, mushrooms, and moose and deer carrion. These tenacious weasels are also expert at killing porcupines. Traditional folklore has them flipping them on their backs and eating the internal organs first. Other killing techniques show them employing biting face attacks and circling until the fatigued, quilled armored foe is susceptible to a throat attack. The quills apparently can pass through the digestive system without any harm, and fisher often cache the kills they make. Fishers have been known to kill wild turkey, bobcat and lynx. In turn, lynx, bobcat and wolves occasionally will kill fishers.
    The researchers took one last glance at the now radio-collared weasel. They took in the features of the slender 40-inch overall length body, a third of that the furred tail. They visually examined the pointed face, rounded ears, and the beautiful golden fur highlights of the upper chest. The 12-pound body, its abdomen splashed with white blotches of fur, was typically weasel shaped. With a deep sigh, they opened the door on the cage trap, and the fisher regained his freedom to roam Kootenai Country Montana.
(Author’s Notes: Reference-I.D. of Montana’s Furbearers, Alt. Fishers are classified as sensitive species of special concern, but are protected and regulated by harvest seasons. See for seasons and regulations.)