HUGHESVILLE - April 14 started out as a typical Saturday for borough resident Corey Shaner. But while taking a walk, he spotted a rare Pennsylvania mammal walking in the streambed below Route 118.
"I seen something moving back in the woods," Shaner said.
Focusing on the creature with a pair of binoculars, he realized it was a fairly large animal but he still didn't quite know what it was. He did notice that it moved in a weird way, then he realized it was dragging its back legs.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF COREY SHANER
A wounded fisher peers out from its makeshift hiding place near a stream below Route 118 on April 14. Local resident Corey Shaner spotted the animal while he was walking along the roadway and alerted the state Game Commission. Unfortunately, the fisher had suffered severe injuries and was deemed to be fatally injured. A wildlife conservation officer with the Game Commission killed the animal and confiscated its body to take to a taxidermy studio. Fishers were reintroduced in Pennsylvania in the 1990s and have spread across much of the state, though they rarely are seen.
The injured animal was a fisher, a very elusive creature that was reintroduced into parts of Pennsylvania in 1994. Fishers rarely are seen. They prefer to stick to the mountainous, "big woods" country.
"It was the first one I have seen before (in the wild)," Shaner said.
Call for help
He started to walk down the bank toward the animal.
"It could only crawl with its front legs but moved pretty fast," he said.
Shaner assumed it had been hit by a car.
He kept his distance but was close enough to realize the injuries were severe. Then he decided to call the state Game Commission to see if a wildlife conservation officer could help.
"I wanted to see what was wrong with him and then get ahold of the Game Commission," Shaner said.
He left the area to make the call and to grab his camera.
"I called and told them I found an injured fisher and wasn't sure what to do," Shaner said.
The dispatcher who took his information told him to go back out and make sure the animal still was there, then to call back to confirm.
He had a tough time finding the injured animal the second time.
"I looked up and down the stream(bed) and basically started to give up," he said.
But then Shaner spotted the fisher when it came out from under a log and began to walk to the streambed again.
He called the commission again and the dispatcher said an officer would arrive on the scene.
Shaner waited in the area, photographing the fisher and sometimes talking to it, as if to console it.
"I thought they (the Game Commission) might be able to save him," he said.
When WCO John Wyant arrived, he and Shaner again observed the fisher through binoculars. Wyant approached the animal to assess its injuries.
The fisher had severe injuries to its spine and pelvic area, Wyant said, explaining why it was dragging its back legs. The hair even had been worn off its back legs due to the dragging motion.
"We determined he would not be able to survive in the wild," Wyant said.
Fishers are predators and must have the use of their rear legs in order to take down prey.
Wyant shot and killed the animal at the scene.
"I looked at Officer Wyant and said, 'I couldn't have done that,' " Shaner said.
"We look at cases like this on an individual basis," Wyant said. "We see what kind of long-term survival they (injured animals) can have."
Sometimes the animals can be captured and taken to a rehabilitator to heal from their injuries.
Unfortunately, Wyant often sees animals that have to be put down because of injuries sustained from collisions with vehicles.
"It's the toughest part of the job," he said, adding he rather would see an animal recover from its injuries and be returned to the wild. "It's a delicate balance."
Game Commission officers are trained in humane methods of dispatching wounded wildlife.
"We are trained to place (the bullet) so it is a quick death," Wyant said.
In all of the 13 years that Wyant has been a wildlife conservation officer, this only was the second time he has seen a live fisher in the wild. He has come across three or four road-killed carcasses.
The fisher Shaner found was a big male. It likely weighed about 10 to 12 pounds, Wyant said.
Males can weigh up to 13 pounds, females about half that.
In this region of Pennsylvania, fishers were reintroduced about 15 years ago. The reintroduction program continued until 1998 and involved release sites in the Quehanna Wild Area, Allegheny National Forest, Pine Creek Valley and Pocono Mountains.
Wyant said this particular fisher probably lived in that area because it provided a good source of food for it. They are opportunistic predators, consuming a variety of other animals, raiding hawk and owl nests, eating road-killed deer and preying on livestock.
The commission lists their preferred meals as squirrels, rabbits, carrion and porcupines. Despite their name, they rarely eat fish, unless they come across a dead one.
The fisher Shaner found will be used for educational purposes.
"It was taken to the regional office, and biological data will be taken," Wyant said. "It will probably be done up in taxidermy."
That will allow people to see a fisher up close. Wyant said many people don't even know what a fisher is.
As an avid hunter and fisherman, Shaner had seen a lot of creatures while out in the state's woodlands and fields, but never a fisher.
"I had no idea there would be a fisher in that area," he said. "You don't hear about that."
He learned more about the animal later and realized seeing one was a rare occurrence.
"I can't believe I found something like this here. It was like finding an elephant out in the woods," Shaner said.