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New species found in Yosemite National Park

May 18, 2011

Yosemite National Park is home to more than 400 species of animals,
including a number of species that qualify for listing under the Endangered
Species Act. The park provides habitat for a wide variety of wildlife due
to its undisturbed ecosystems in the Central Sierra Nevada. Wildlife
species in Yosemite range from aquatic invertebrates to large mammals.

One of the many mammals that roam Yosemite’s forests is the Pacific fisher
(Martes pennanti). The fisher, a medium-sized member of the weasel family,
is a candidate species for listing as threatened or endangered under the
federal Endangered Species Act. Yosemite National Park, in conjunction
with the U.C. Berkeley Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Program (SNAMP)
Fisher Project, has successfully identified the park’s first Pacific fisher
den.

The female Pacific fisher using this den was originally captured as a
juvenile in October of 2009 in Sierra National Forest, directly south of
the park. SNAMP researchers have been able to continuously track this
fisher using radio-telemetry since her initial capture. After remaining
near her capture site for almost a full year, she moved northward toward
Yosemite. This female fisher recently moved her kits (young) from their
den in Sierra National Forest where they were born, to a den in the
southern portion of Yosemite National Park. This is typical behavior for a
female fisher with newborn kits. The female will likely move her kits one
to two more times to different dens during the next month.

Female Pacific fishers can breed as early as one year of age, but most do
not successfully reproduce until three years of age. The fisher discovered
at the park successfully had kits at two years old. Following a gestation
period of about 40 days, the female typically gives birth to one to three
kits in a hollow cavity of a tree. Kits are born blind and helpless, and
completely dependent on their mother’s milk for the first 8 to 10 weeks.
Kits begin to crawl after about 3 weeks, can open their eyes after about 7
weeks, and can start to climb after 8 weeks. At about 4 months, kits are
more mobile and are able to travel with their mother on hunting trips.
Fisher eat small mammals such as mice and squirrels, and are even known to
be one of the few animals to prey on porcupines. After approximately 5 to 7
months, the kits leave the maternal den and their mother and travel out of
the territory of their birth and upbringing.

The Pacific fisher is a western subspecies that once ranged from British
Colombia, south through Washington, Oregon, and northern California, and
reached their southern extent in the Sierra Nevada. Pacific fisher have
declined to only 50 percent of their historical range in California, with
only two native populations separated by approximately 260 miles remaining
today. One population is located around the western California-Oregon
border, while the other is located in the southern Sierra Nevada in
California. Yosemite represents the northern boundary of the small and
isolated southern Sierra Nevada population, which is estimated to be
between 125 to 250 adults.

The Pacific fisher is threatened by low reproductive rates, reduced genetic
diversity, predators, disease, and habitat degradation. Trapping prior to
1946 also contributed to population decline. Recently, road-kill has
become a concern as several Pacific fisher have been found dead along the
roadways in the park over the past decade after being hit by cars.

In order to promote continued fisher recovery, partnerships have developed
between the NPS, the Yosemite Conservancy, U.C. Berkeley, the U.S. Forest
Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the California Department
of Fish and Game.

This important recovery work has been made possible with support from
Yosemite Conservancy, the Wilderness Society, and the Aspenwood Foundation.

For more information on Pacific fishers, please visit
http://www.nps.gov/yose/naturescience/fishers.htm

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