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Know What You’re Up Against

In my 18-1/2 years of country living I’ve always strived to live in peaceful coexistence with nature. OK, I’ve had a few choice words for the woodpeckers that seemed intent on removing the cedar siding from the house, and the weasels that came around hoping for a meal of my ducklings, but generally, strategies such as a well-aimed clod of earth, calling the dogs’ attention to the intruder, placing a loud radio close to an inappropriately chosen abode or setting a live trap, have solved innumerable problems. I’m very good at “catch and relocate.”

But, what to do about an influx of fishers that I feared were intent on “chowing down” on one of my beloved cats? I had always thought that was a fable, until my next door neighbours lost their cat to a fisher that snapped her right off the deck where she was sunning herself. Another neighbour lost a chicken to a fisher that was bold enough to attack, even though there were two people and two dogs outside in the yard!

Well first, know thine enemy. I did some research and found that descriptors such as “aggressive, agile, relentless, cunning and fierce” were words used repeatedly in reference to them. Fishers (Martes pennanti) are members of the mustelid family, cousins to weasels and martens. Contrary to their name they do not fish. It is believed that their name came from early Dutch settlers who called them “fitch” or “fitchet” meaning “nasty.”

Often confused with the pine marten because of their similar colouring, the male fisher is much larger, being 35 to 47 inches in length (including tail) and weighing 13 to 15 pounds with the female fisher being about a third of that weight. Fishers are omnivores, eating berries or nuts, but preferring mice, shrews, squirrels, snowshoe hares and, dare I say it, cats! As well, fishers are one of the few animals that prey on porcupines. Having mobile ankle joints and being able to rotate their hind paws almost 180 degrees, allows them to move with tremendous agility through branches and to climb down trees headfirst, enabling them to attack a treed porcupine from above. The fisher launches repeated attacks to the porcupine’s quill-free face, a process that can take as long as 30 minutes to exact a kill.

Having few natural enemies except for people, fishers were trapped to near extinction in the 18th and early 19th century for their glossy, deep-brown fur. In 1999, 16,638 pelts were purchased from Canadian trappers for an average of $27 each. Today, according to furcanada.com, a pelt is being marketed for $190.

As part of an ongoing mandate to re-establish missing, but important components of Riding Mountain National Park (RMNP), 45fishers were reintroduced in 1994-95.

Roger Baird, the RMNP resource management officer at the Deep Lake Warden Station said there is an inverse relationship between the amount of soft, fluffy snow and the stress levels of fishers, as they do not have foot loadings as good as other animals such as lynx. So in our current winter, it is more likely that fishers will appear in our yards in the hope of an easy meal.

Fishers have a large feeding area of approximately 20 square km, which is probably why I only see their footprints down my driveway and around my duck pen every 10 or 12 days. But, the consistent visits mean that my felines and I now live within a fisher’s territory. I’ve set out my live trap, enticingly baited with frozen raw liver, and I have a relocation plan in place!

Now my dilemma. Should I use a cat run where my pets are certain to be safe but unhappy, or should I let the cats outside where they risk becoming food for a fisher? – Candy Irwin writes from

Lake Audy, Manitoba

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But,whattodoabout aninfluxoffishersthat Ifearedwereintenton chowingdown”onone ofmybelovedcats?

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