2012-01-03 "Socks help with fisher research" by HEATHER HACKING from "Chico Enterprise-Record"
OAKHURST — A wildlife research team is encouraging new life for old socks.
In early December, four fishers (relatives of weasels and wolverines) were released to land owned by Sierra Pacific Industries in Stirling City. That event is part of a re-introduction of the animals, which have been absent from nearby forests for about 100 years.
Research is also currently taking place in the southern part of the Sierra Nevada, in areas near Yosemite and Merced, in the Sugar Pine watershed, near Bass Lake. Forest thinning has been taking place for fire management, and researchers through the U.S. Forest Service are watching closely to see how this affects the Pacific fisher.
Along the way, Rick Sweitzer, UC Berkeley wildlife biologist, learned that the best way to attract fishers is to hang meat in old socks.
The animals, as well as bobcats, mountain lions, gray fox, coyote and squirrels, will climb up a tree for the meat. Motion detectors then activate cameras which capture images of the animals.
A yard stick is placed nearby for measurement.
Black bears are the most common to snack on the socks. Fishers are the second-highest feasters.
Sweitzer was loading up a cart each month with 250 pairs of socks, with costs quickly adding up.
His idea was that mismatched socks had to be easier to come by.
Since then, his co-worker Anne Lombardo got the word out with Yosemite High School and the socks began rolling in. Word also got around on a few blogs on the Internet, Sweitzer explained.
"We're really into recycling," he said. In fact, the researchers have permission to harvest road kill deer, which is a big hit with the animals the biologists are tracking.
"We're always throwing deer in the back of trucks." A fist-sized ball of meat is placed in the socks and nailed to the trees. For added allure, scent is purchased from a trapping supply company," Sweitzer said.
At any time there are 65-70 cameras in place in that region, he explained, with four- to-five socks per unit.
"We go through a lot of socks."
At times, he might have two carts filled, which does solicit some funny looks from shoppers, he said.
With the word spreading, he got back from the holidays and there were 30 boxes of donated socks ready to go. Even socks with holes can be mended, and all will be dyed dark colors.
He said he doesn't really care whether people wash them first. They'll be washed. Plus, the smell of meat will overpower any residual foot stench.
He said the photos are fun for researchers to review, often capturing fishers swinging from the trees.
Part of the research also includes trapping the fishers in boxes, and then affixing radio collars. Thirty five fishers are tracked.
This is similar to the research being done in the Stirling City area, which includes 39 fishers reintroduced over the past four years.
Sweitzer's research starts at the Merced River to the north, to the San Joaquin River, covering 600 square miles.
What is learned from this project will help with other reintroduction fisher projects in the state.
The Pacific fisher is a small, nocturnal carnivore that perches and dens in large, old-growth pine and oak trees, information about the project said. Once widespread across the high elevation forests of the Sierra Nevada and in the coastal mountains of northwestern California, fishers are now only found in two small isolated populations. One group lives near the California-Oregon border. The others are in the southern Sierra Nevada.
Comment by Jim Brobeck:
"The Pacific fisher is a small, nocturnal carnivore that perches and dens in large, old-growth pine and oak trees"
Unfortunately SPI is the leader in converting forests into even-aged plantations, eliminating old growth trees of every species.
A fisher is seen trying to pull bait from a sock on a tree in this photo.(Contributed photo)