One morning at the end of April, Tomy O’Brien was headed out on a walk from his house on the St. Croix River bluffs when a rabbit bolted past at full speed, “clearly considering me a lesser threat than what was chasing it.”
Hot on its heels was a fierce little creature called a fisher, a seldom-seen resident of the St. Croix Valley.
“He saw me and, stopping, stood on his hind legs to see if I too would run away, before retreating,” O’Brien wrote.
That gave Tomy a chance to point his camera and capture the images above and below, capturing a rare photo of one of these animals in the wild. (Tomy was previously featured on St. Croix 360 for his project to recreate historic photographs around Marine on St. Croix.)
Fishers are related to wolverines and other weasels, including the marten, which is also found in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Fishers are elusive and solitary, and fascinating. The animals climb, hunt, and live in tall trees of the type found in old-growth forest. While they surely lived along the St. Croix for centuries before European immigration, the logging of the region’s forests and unlimited trapping.
To the Ojibwe people who have lived here for centuries, they are known as ojiig. The star constellation Ursa Major (The Bear) in European cultures was called ojiig by Ojibwe. Part of that constellation is now well-known as the Big Dipper.
One story of the fisher credits him with freeing the “summer birds,” which brought summer back to the land of the North Country. This could be an explanation for where migratory birds go in the winter.
I’ve seen a fisher once in the St. Croix Valley, running out of my woods and across our road when driving home one day a couple years ago. The spot is only a mile or so from Tomy, and I suspect the two animals may be related, and there may be a reproducing population in our wooded neighborhood.
Five years ago, a wildlife specialist with the DNR told a Stillwater Gazette columnist that fishers have been returning to the St. Croix Valley as more forests reach maturity and trapping is now regulated.
“There have been two or three confirmed sightings in the past several years in Washington County,” said Jason Abraham, a fur-bearing animal specialist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The animals hunt squirrels and other small rodents, and also eat carrion, nuts, and berries. They are notable for being the only animal known to hunt porcupines.
The animals need trees taller than 60 feet with lots horizontal limbs so they can move about, said Harvey Halvorsen, wildlife biologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The region’s abundant aspen don’t work, but other common trees like maple, pine or oak will make do.
Minnesota currently has a one-week fisher trapping season north of Interstate 94, beginning the Saturday after Thanksgiving, with about 2,000 animals harvested across the state each year. Wisconsin’s season runs from October to January, with a season limit of one.