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3 August 2015 Reproduction, Abundance, and Population Growth for a Fisher (Pekania pennanti) Population in the Sierra National Forest, California
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Abstract

In the west coast region of the United States, fishers (Pekania pennanti) exist in 2 remnant populations—1 in northern California and 1 in the southern Sierra Nevada, California—and 3 reintroduced populations (western Washington, southern Oregon, and northeastern California). The West Coast Distinct Population Segment of fishers encompassing all of these populations was proposed for listing as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in October 2014. There are likely fewer than 500 total fishers in the southern Sierra Nevada population isolate, but empirical data on demographic rates, population size, and population growth are almost entirely lacking. Our goal was to estimate demographic parameters and current abundance of a fisher population at the north margin of the southern Sierra Nevada region. Radiocollared fishers were monitored from 2007 to 2013 to estimate survival and demographic rates, and camera traps were used to estimate population size based on detections of individual animals in a capture—mark—resight (CMR) framework. A Leslie matrix model was used to estimate a deterministic population growth rate (λ). Fisher abundance ranged from 48 animals in 2010 to 62 animals in 2012, whereas mean population density varied from 0.075 to 0.096 fishers/km2. Reproductive status was determined for 89 of 93 total denning opportunities; denning and weaning rates were estimated at 84% and 70%, and litter size was 1.6 kits. We documented 8 den failures, mostly associated with predator attacks. Demographic rates in the study population were comparable to reports from elsewhere in California or Oregon, but the CMR-based population density was the lowest reported in the United States. The estimated λ for the population was 0.966 (range 0.786–1.155), which was in agreement with no indication of a positive or negative trend in population density. An encouraging result from sensitivity analyses was that minor improvements in fisher survival and fecundity, facilitated by proposed mitigation or management to reduce exposure to several agents of mortality, could improve λ to 1.06–1.09 over the longer term. We believe that the combination of a population growth rate slightly below 1.0, small population size and low density, multiple challenges to survival and reproduction, and damage to habitat from wildfires warrants concern for the viability of the fisher population in our study area, which may extend to the overall southern Sierra Nevada population if λ trends below 1.0 in other parts of the region. There is a need for continued monitoring and potential mitigation for threats to survival to assure continued presence of fishers in the southern Sierra Nevada, California.

Rick A. Sweitzer, Viorel D. Popescu, Reginald H. Barrett, Kathryn L. Purcell, and Craig M. Thompson "Reproduction, Abundance, and Population Growth for a Fisher (Pekania pennanti) Population in the Sierra National Forest, California," Journal of Mammalogy 96(4), 772-790, (3 August 2015). https://doi.org/10.1093/jmammal/gyv083
Received: 24 May 2014; Accepted: 11 May 2015; Published: 3 August 2015
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