Fishers at Banshee Reeks?

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Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve is beginning a project on fishers (Martes pennanti) with the assistance of two Master Naturalists (Kathy Neal and Mike Manning), Ashley Greer (an intern from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute), and biologists from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. There have been two unconfirmed sightings over the past two years by hunters in the area. Fishers are considered an extirpated species in Virginia. Ron Circé, BNRP Manager, states, “We will be conducting a camera trapping survey using 15 new cameras. Project plans have already begun and it is hoped that the preliminary site selections will be done within two weeks and cameras set in one to two weeks.”

According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries website, “habitat destruction, excessive trapping and shooting” have all but eliminated fishers from Virginia. “Wanderers from West Virginia are now appearing along Virginia border areas, (Highland, Rockingham, and Rappahannock counties), but there is no evidence of reproductive populations in Virginia.” The website also states that fishers were “probably formerly widespread in the mountains of Virginia”, and that “it survives best in extensiveforest and wilderness areas for its home range is large – 15 to 35 square km.” An article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from 2007 states that the West Virginia Division of Wildlife Resources released 23 fishers from New Hampshire in 1969. In just three years, “the population had grown large enough to support a legal trapping season.” Currently, fishers are frequently seen in forested areas of the state. If verified that fishers are at BRNP, biologists from various state agencies, e.g., the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the Department of Environmental Quality will be notified and sent copies of the data. Several federal agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, will also be notified and sent copies of the data. The confirmed presence of fishers here will rewrite the current natural history of fishers due to their range expansion and coming back as an extirpated species. The data will be published in a scientific journal. Evidently fishers are populous in other states: Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Wisconsin even have a fisher trapping season in the late fall every year. David Cazenas and Ron Circé contributed to this report.

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