Fishers in the western United States were recently proposed for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act because of concerns for loss of suitable habitat and evidence of a diversity of mortality risks that reduce survival. One of 2 remnant populations of fishers in California is in the southern Sierra Nevada region, where we studied them at 2 research sites in the Sierra National Forest. Our objectives were to evaluate whether survival was lower for male fishers and dispersal-aged individuals or if survival varied seasonally. We captured and monitored 232 radiocollared fishers from March 2007 to March 2014 and used model analyses to identify important predictors of survival. Fifty-two percent (n = 120) of the radiocollared fishers died, and survival varied by sex and season, but not by age or between study sites. There was no evidence that dispersal-aged fishers experienced lower survival than older fishers. Annual survival trended lower for male (0.62 [95% CI 0.54–0.70]) compared to female fishers (0.72 [95% CI 0.67–0.78]), was lowest in the spring to mid-summer season (0.83 [95% CI 0.78–0.87]), and highest in late fall and winter (0.92 [95% CI 0.89–0.94]). Lower survival among male fishers appeared linked to males moving over large areas to locate mates, while lower survival for females was potentially related to high energetic cost of reproduction. It was possible but unknown if lower survival among all fishers in spring was linked to secondary exposure to toxicants dispersed around illicit marijuana grow sites. Six-month survival of juvenile fishers was 0.85 for females and 0.79 for males, but lower at 0.62 for females and 0.57 for males when adjusted for deaths before late September. Annual survival among adult female fishers was 20% lower than 0.90, a value that prior modeling suggested was required for population expansion in the overall southern Sierra Nevada. Survival data from our study imply a greater challenge for maintaining self-sustaining fisher populations in the southern Sierra Nevada region, and resource managers are working to mitigate several of the human-associated factors that limit population growth.
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Vol. 97 • No. 1