What’s in a name? In the case of the Fisher Cat, Pekania pennanti, a low-slung, cat-sized fur-bearing omnivore found throughout the dense pine forests of Northern New York, apparently not much.
The Fisher Cat is not a cat, but rather a member of the weasel family, and they do not fish, although there are records of them eating dead fish found on the side of ponds or lakes.
How did they come by the name, then?
‘Fisher’ is thought to be derived from early European settlers likening the animal to the European polecat, called a ‘fitche’. As for ‘cat’, the fisher is about the size of a large domestic cat, with a dark brown to black, close-cropped glossy fur coat and a long bushy tail. It will hold its tail upright when it runs, perhaps making it resemble a cat to some. Although they don’t climb trees often, they can climb quite well, using their sharp, retractable claws, which are also similar to a cat’s.
DEC staff, in partnership with researchers from SUNY ESF, are conducting a study to better understand what drives changes in fisher populations in the Central Adirondacks specifically, and more widely across the Northern Zone.
With the help of a number of trappers, fishers are live-captured during the winter and adult females fitted with GPS collars to locate and monitor dens and kit production. The combination of real-time GPS location data, as well as trail cameras deployed at maternal den sites, help estimate kit production and survival.
Ultimately, DEC will use data on the reproductive potential of Northern Zone fisher populations and gain a better understanding of population dynamics.
For more information on fishers and their management in New York, visit DEC’s website.
Whenever the subject of fishers comes up, you hear they’re mean, nasty and vicious – a smaller wolverine with attitude. Fishers get a pretty bad rap, but when they do, there’s a great deal of projecting and anthropomorphizing going on.
Fishers aren’t mean or evil, and they don’t really eat many house cats at all. » Continue Reading.
Two new state fishing records were set over the course of one weekend in New York recently.
Brian Hartman of Alexandria Bay eclipsed the 2009 state record walleye by more than 1.5 pounds when he caught an 18-pound-2-ounce walleye from the St. Lawrence River on May 5 using a swimbait.
On May 6, William Wightman of South Dayton used a black marabou jig to reel in a 4-pound-1-ounce crappie from Lake Flavia in Cattaraugus County, exceeding the 1998 state record by five ounces. » Continue Reading.
Furbearer trapping will begin soon in many parts of New York State, following changes to fisher and marten trapping seasons, as well as changes to some general trapping regulations and expanded hunting for bobcat.
While coyote hunting season began October 1 in much the state, hunting seasons for other furbearers such as bobcat, raccoon, and fox begins October 25. Trappers should be aware of changes to trapping regulations for fisher beginning this fall, including: » Continue Reading.
The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced the release of a fisher “management strategy” that reduces the trapping season in the northern part of the state by 16 days and establishes a new six-day season in the central and western parts of the state.
The fisher plan is expected to guide the agency’s approach to the species for the next 10 years. The plan attempts to advance two of DEC’s stated goals: to maintain or grow fisher populations where suitable habitat exists and to provide trapping opportunities. » Continue Reading.
Along with the crisp mornings and crimson colors that signal summer’s slide into fall, there are changes occurring in the forests that go mostly unnoticed. Among them is the dispersal of fisher kits from their mother’s territory into their own.
Little is known about the process of fisher families breaking apart, except that it generally starts in late summer or early autumn and unfolds gradually. » Continue Reading.
Tourism is a key business in the Adirondacks. About 12.4 % of local employment is tourism related, but only $2 out of every hundred spent on tourism in New York State ends up in the Adirondacks.
It’s often argued that Adirondack towns and villages, particularly those outside the High Peaks, Lake George and Old Forge areas, present a challenging environment in which to make a living.
Some folks say we should attract manufacturing, others see building more resorts or recreation facilities as the answer, but what about tapping into one of our most important natural resources: wildlife? » Continue Reading.
Beware! Pictured here are your adversaries—the official enemies of the state. Don’t be distracted by the pretty colors, lovely feathers, or furry critters. These are vermin, and citizens are urged to kill them at every opportunity. The poster, by the way, represents only the top nine targets from a group of notorious killers, presented here alphabetically: bobcat, Cooper’s hawk, crow, English sparrow, goshawk, gray fox, great gray owl, great horned owl, house rat, “hunting” house cat, lynx, porcupine, red fox, red squirrel, sharp-shinned hawk, snowy owl, starling, weasel, and woodchuck. Kingfishers and a number of snakes were later added, and osprey were fair game as well.
While some of the phrases used above—“official enemies … kill them at every opportunity … new job requirement”—might sound like exaggerations, they were, in fact, official conservation policies of New York State a century ago.
It was all part of a Conservation Commission campaign in the early 1900s to eradicate undesirables (their word, not mine) from the food chain. The above-named animals were deemed undesirable in the realms of farming and hunting. They were just doing what comes natural—killing to eat, or gathering food—but those foods included barnyard animals, garden and field crops, and the vaguely defined “sporting” game that hunters treasured, particularly grouse, pheasant, and rabbits. Lest you think eradicate is too strong a word, the actual order in one state pamphlet was, “Destroy the Vermin.” » Continue Reading.
It’s a baby bear! It’s a black panther! It’s a wolverine! No, it’s none of the above – it is the fisher, sometimes called fisher cat, a member of the marten genus, and the largest land weasel in New York (I’m considering otters to be amphibious).
We have a terrific fisher mount here at the Newcomb VIC that was donated a few years ago. This particular animal is exceptionally large; according to the gentleman who donated it to us, it weighed about 19 pounds. The largest fisher on record was 20 pounds. Most fishers weigh significantly less: males average 8-11 pounds, females 4-6 pounds. In our minds, however, they are much larger, as most predators seem to be. Lots of misinformation surrounds the fisher, and not just concerning its size. The name alone is the cause of quite a bit of confusion, for it seems logical that anything called a fisher must have something to do with fish. Surely it hangs out near the water and eats fish. In truth, the fisher is an animal of the deep woods, and while its diet is incredibly diverse, the only accounts I have found of it actually eating fish are those where it stole fish that was used to bait traps for martens.
The best explanation I have found for this weasel’s name is really quite simple (and common): corruption of a foreign word. It is believed that “fisher” was originally “fichet,” a word the French used for the pelt of the European polecat (another weasel). This makes complete sense when one considers that some of the earliest European fur traders/trappers on this continent were French; they would have called things by names with which they were familiar. Over time, fichet became fisher; no fish were involved.
The 19th and early-20th centuries were tough on fishers. They faced a double-whammy survival-wise thanks to two human endeavors: trapping and logging. Both activities reached their peak by the late 1800s and early 1900s, declining by the 1930s.
When it came to trapping, fishers, especially the females with their significantly softer furs, were popular for scarves and the trim of coats and such. Prices rose steadily, which encouraged more folks to run trap lines. By the 1920s, fisher pelts were bringing in well over $100 apiece.
At the same time, logging was going full steam. Fishers are animals of the deep woods – they do not like open spaces such as farms and clearcuts. Between trapping pressure and loss of habitat, fishers were soon extirpated from much of their historical range in the US and Canada. By the 1930s, the Adirondack Park was one of the very few places that had a remnant fisher population.
In an effort to preserve the remaining animals, the fisher trapping season was closed. Enough fishers remained in intact ecosystems for the population to recover, and by 1949 New York opened the fisher season once more.
Today fishers can be found across much of New York State. This is due in part to decreased trapping pressure (a fisher pelt may get $30 to $50 today, a far cry from the nearly $800 price tag of the mid-‘30s), and in part to agricultural lands reverting to forest.
Over the years, I have followed many fisher tracks in the Adirondack woods. Their preferred gait, a lope, looks like a mysterious three-legged animal has cruised through the snow. Although fishers can easily climb trees, they prefer to stay on the ground, often using downed logs as their highways. Because they are solitary animals, you will rarely find fisher tracks grouped together, unless it is mating season.
Fishers mate in late March or early April, about a week after the female has given birth. This would seem to suggest that gestation lasts almost a whole year, which would be odd for an animal of this size. In fact, fishers enjoy delayed implantation, where the fertilized eggs remain in a state of suspended animation for about ten months, at which time they are implanted and official gestation begins, ending in the birth of one to six young about 50 days later.
Blind and helpless at birth, the young remain in the hollow tree den for several weeks. By the time they are five months old, the mother can no longer take the squabbling of the young and kicks them out of the family circle. Within a year, the offspring will have established their own ranges, and another generation of fishers takes on the world.
One of the comments I most frequently hear when visitors look at our fisher mount is something along the lines of “these are mean animals.” I make a point of telling them that “mean” is a human characteristic. Fishers are fishers. They are weasels, they are predators. They are, out of necessity, efficient hunters that can take down a porcupine almost as easily as a squirrel. If cornered, any animal will fight – a fisher may be just a bit more aggressive because it is a predator and used to taking on others. Does this make the animal mean? No – it makes it a successful hunter.
That said, it is best to keep your cats and poodles inside at night. Fishers have been known to snack on pint-sized pets that are left outside. But otherwise, having a fisher in the neighborhood is kind of a nice thing. I’ve only seen fishers three or four times – and each time the animal was dashing across the road, seeking the shelter of the deep woods. I find it comforting to know that this medium-sized predator has done well in the Adirondacks, a link to a past where primeval woods covered most of the eastern US.
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