The fisher is back!

There are signs that the fisher, a housecat-sized member of the mink family, that roamed the woodlands of northeastern Pennsylvania before the early 1900s before disappearing from the state, has returned. The Carbon County Environmental Education Center now has two fisher specimens.

The latest, a lifelike taxidermy display of a 14-pound male, arrived at the center just before the Memorial Day weekend. The earlier display had been preserved as a flat cotton-stuffed "study skin."

"A fisher is the largest member of the Mustelid family native to Pennsylvania," explained Susan Gallagher, CCEEC's chief naturalist. "Mustelids include weasels, minks and skunks. It's basically a giant weasel."

By giant, Gallagher means that adult fishers are typically between four and 12 pounds with males up to twice the size of females. The largest on record, a male fisher trapped in Maine, weighed 20 pounds 2 ounces. They measure between 30 and 47 inches from the nose to the tip of the tail, with the tail roughly one-third of the animal's length.

Until the 1800s, this reclusive predator was widely scattered across a several hundred mile band straddling the U.S./Canadian border. The fisher is a forest animal, with males having a home range of 30 square miles and females, 12 square miles. Wholesale logging and trapping during the 19th century led to the loss of the fisher by around 1900.

In December 1994, three fishers were released in the Sproul State Forest in Clinton County. Over the next several years, an additional 187 fishers were reintroduced in several other northcentral Pennsylvania locations. That made it the largest fisher reintroduction project ever undertaken in North America.

According to Gallagher, the closest fisher release was in the Wyoming and Sullivan County areas.

"While he was riding his bike near Normal Square in Lehighton, Dan Steigerwalt discovered the fisher," said naturalist Franklin Klock. "It was fresh. It must have just happened. He returned with a vehicle and brought it here."

Because of its small population and reclusive nature, fishers are unfamiliar to most people, although the PA Game Commission collects 20 to 30 road-killed fishers, and trappers captured and released 1,893 fishers across the state over the past fiscal year. Public sightings reported to conservation officers have increased from just over 100 in 2002-03 to more than 300 in 2004-05.

The CCEEC felt that this specimen was in such good condition that it deserved to be mounted. They contacted Jason Lutz, a taxidermist in Freeland. Six months ago they made an agreement to have the fisher mounted, standing on its hind legs in a natural position.

"Fishers eat other animals," Gallagher explained. "All members of this family are primarily meat eaters. They eat mice, birds and eggs.

Despite the name, fisher, they are not aquatic, they are forest dwelling and spend time in trees."

The name has nothing to do with fishing. It is derived from the Dutch/French word, fitchet, meaning polecat. In some regions the fisher is known by various Native American names, such as a "pekan."

"Fishers are very secretive," Gallagher said. "They usually get wind of you before you get wind of them, and hide. They don't like to be near people."

"Every once in a while, people stop and say, 'I saw an animal across the lake and I don't know what it was. It was a little bit bigger than an average house cat, but it was all brown and it climbed a tree,' Gallagher said. "I tell them it probably was a fisher."

The fisher taxidermy specimen is available at the Carbon County Environmental Education Center, 151 E. White Bear Drive in Summit Hill. Phone: (570) 645-8597. Web site: www.carboneec.org.