: How the Fisher Came Back Home :

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an excerpt by Barbara Sjoholm

The fir needles are like some ancient Aramaic lettering on the snow crust, spelling out a text I can't read in waking life. The soft strands of lichen on the fir and cedar send off melt-water sparks on this rare sunny January day in Olympic National Park. Some feet away, down a bank of shiny sword fern, rush the frigid gray-green waters of the North Fork Skokomish River. After weeks of snow and ice storms in the Pacific Northwest we're all a little giddy with the sunshine.

About fifty of us, mostly wildlife biologists from state and national agencies in Washington and Oregon, representatives from the Skokomish Tribal Nation and Conservation Northwest, along with a handful of family members like me, are gathered here today, ready to capture with cameras the wild, leaping instant when captivity will become freedom.

The celebrity to whom our paparazzi gazes are directed is crouched, invisible, in a plywood box at our feet, one of five wooden cases that arrived here at a campground near Lake Cushman, up a winding road from the Hood Canal, in the back of a covered pick-up. The inhabitants of the cases are fishers, a medium-sized member of the mustelidae family, weasel-like carnivores, sleek and muscular, with rounded ears, snub noses, and excellent teeth. They've been gone from the Olympic Peninsula for over seventy years. Now, thanks to some of these people standing around in thick jackets and heavy boots, the fishers are returning. Not the same fishers, obviously, who were hunted almost to extinction here in Washington, as in most places around the United States, for their beautiful pelts. Not even their many-times-great-grandchildren. These are fisher cousins, who until very recently were living up in British Columbia. Taken by well-paid trappers to holding pens, inoculated, fed tasty meals of mountain beaver and deer, the fishers were then packed into nifty two-room cases and driven here. Fifteen fishers are scheduled to be released today, five here on the east side of the Olympic Peninsula, and two other groups of five each on the west side, at the Queets and Hoh Rivers.