May 07, 2005

No reliable sightings

I came home on Thursday to find M. with all of our wildlife guidebooks spread out on the sofa.

She had been walking the dogs on the San Isabel National Forest right near the house, when they started running up the dirt road after what she thought was a smaller dog. It and they went off into the underbrush, then it ran back across the road not 10 feet from her and up into the thick forest of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir.

Then the dogs came after it, lost the scent, milled around, and she caught and leashed them and brought them home.

The mystery beast was larger than a house cat, looked like a weasel with a long, bushy tail, and was reddish brown all over. It was not a raccoon, a badger, a ringtail, a marmot, or a porcupine.

All we can think is that it was a fisher, Martes pennati, one of the larger members of the weasel family. The road surface was sun-dried clay, so there were no good tracks.

According to a paper online at the Predator Conservation Alliance site, there have been no reliable sightings of fishers in Colorado for decades.

A natural history museum site shows no fishers in Colorado either.

Actually, I think I saw one in the late 1980s while elk hunting higher up in the Wet Mountains, at about 11,000 feet in a fir forest.

But from our days as wildlife contractors for the Bureau of Land Management, we know that a "reliable sighting" is one by a PhD biologist accompanied by one or two graduate students.

"Who says that living in the woods is boring?" asks M.

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