Rare mammal makes return to Oswego

Somewhere in Oswego County a fisher is stirring, and Lucina Hernandez has the pictures to prove it. That’s news, because the mammal hasn’t been seen in the area for decades.

Hernandez, the director of Oswego State’s Rice Creek Field Station, set up the trail camera that snapped the photos of the creature as part of her mammal study there.

"We were pretty excited," said John Laundre, Hernandez’s husband and research partner, speaking on behalf of his wife. "We knew fishers were pretty rare in the area. For Oswego County this is fairly unique."

Laundre said he didn’t know when the last fisher sighting in the county was, but confirmed that, "it’s been a long time."

The North American mammal is noted for its distinctive ability to kill porcupines. According to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s Web site, "they do it by biting the face, where there are no quills, until the animal is too weak to prevent being rolled over and attacked in the soft underbelly." The animal is still trapped for its fur throughout New York and used to be fair game in Oswego County until their numbers dwindled here, David DuBois, of the Oswego County Trappers Association, said.

DuBois said 50 years ago he never saw fishers anywhere but the Adirondacks. He said he now sees them near his home in Mexico, N.Y. He added that the fisher will eat just about anything and sometimes pick into cat or dog food if left outdoors.

"They’re out poking around," DuBois said. "They’re like some people; they always want to see what’s over the next hill."

As an avid trapper, DuBois will try to catch fishers where it’s legal. After they’re caught in grip or scissor traps, he skins the animal and sells the sought-after fur. The luxurious black to brown pelt will fetch about $45 this year, according to DuBois.

"It used to be a money-maker," DuBois said. "But now it’s mostly a sport. I do it mostly for exercise really."

Laundre said Hernandez isn’t ready to release the fisher photograph, taken in December, just yet. She plans to publish a note on her finding in the "Northeastern Naturalist" sometime as early as March.

The return of mature forest in Oswego County, specifically Rice Creek, is probably responsible for the fisher’s resurgence in the area, Laundre said. He noted that when Rice Creek Field Station opened in 1965, "80 percent was open farmland. Now 90 percent is forest."