Protecting fishers is at the heart of two projects in B.C. aimed at reducing the number being trapped and assessing the impact of wildfires on their habitat.
Rich Weir, a carnivore specialist with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, told Black Press Media the most recent assessment suggests there are less than 500 adult fishers left in B.C.’s Central Interior.
“The Central Interior population has really declined in the last 30 years,” he said. “Fishers are a critter that needs trees and forest and when trees and forests go away on trucks to mills that doesn’t do great things for their populations.”
In addition to changes in habitat due to forestry and wildfires, fishers have been trapped for their fur.
Weir is heading up a project to distribute modified marten boxes that will be given to trappers.
There aren’t many trappers going after fishers specifically, but are going after martens which are much more abundant.
“Most trappers are catching fishers incidentally in traps that are meant for martens mostly or lynx.”
Taking advantage of an interesting difference between the body size of a fisher and a marten, which is quite a bit smaller than a fisher, the ministry has worked with trappers to design a modification of the current marten box used to trap martens.
“We’ve added a hole in the front that is too small for a fisher to get through but big enough for a marten to get through. That allows the trappers to keep trapping martens, which is the bread and butter of most trappers in the Central Interior.”
The design for the marten boxes will be completed over the summer and community members in several First Nations communities will build them.
“Many of the First Nations community members are active trappers so we will be working with them and non-First Nations trappers throughout the Cariboo and up into other areas up to Smithers and Mackenzie to have the traps distributed in the fall and have the trappers do monitoring of what they are trapping.”
It will be important to determine if the new design works well to keep the fishers out and let the trappers catch what they want to catch, he added.
Describing fishers as susceptible from a population stance, Weir said they don’t live long and if they live to be eight years old that’s really long.
Females normally have one to four kits in a life time.
“They aren’t like coyotes or wolves who, when the conditions are good, can pump out tons of babies. Their reproduction is constrained to be slow, which is not good when you are trying to recover populations.”
Weir started studying fishers in the Williams Lake area in 1990.
Rory Fogarty, another MOE biologist, is heading up the population assessment project to get a better handle of what the effects of habitat change from logging and fires in 2017 and 2018 have been on fishers.
Fogarty is doing a graduate thesis project and Weir said part of his research was done out by Puntzi Lake on the edge of the Plateau fire from 2017.
“We were looking to see if there were still fishers where there was the fire versus where there hadn’t been. That area around Puntzi is one of the hot spots for fishers,” Weir said.