Today Rob and I went and checked some traps that Kevin set and opened several days ago. Sadly, we caught nothing! We have adopted a philosophy on the project relating to failure and trapping. Essentially it states that if you display any optimism that you will capture a fisher then you are certainly doomed to failure – you’ll capture nothing. If this goes on for much time at all then you inevitably develop a deep malaise that can easily transition into despair. About the time that you feel your endeavors are completely pointless and futile is generally about the time that you begin catching fishers.
This is a peculiar phenomenon that has been observed independently by multiple biologists. Scott Yaeger (our good friend and collaborator from the US Fish and Wildlife Service) initially made me aware of this concept several years back when he noted that he was having good success capturing foxes, but that once he believed he would catch foxes he was unable to ever catch another. Another day while Richard Callas (again friend and collaborator from Cal Fish and Game) and I were trying to catch fisher for the 1st year of the translocation effort, without success, he commented that he has also made similar observations relating the optimism of the researcher to the likelihood of success. In fact, it was during his description that he initially mentioned that we would need to sink into the “Depths of Despair” before we might have any success. Moreover, as Richard noted, the despair must be genuine. If you invoke the depths of despair with secret belief that it will bring success then you will always be disappointed. This is why you always capture animals on the last trap of a long line that produced no other animals, or on the very first trap that you feel was placed in poor habitat and could never catch an animal.
No work as been done on how many, or if all, the biologists contributing to a project must be in the depths. Perhaps it is neccessary for only 1 truly caring individual to fall into this strange abyss of perceived failure? Maybe more importantly no one has established a statistical link between disposition and captures success, and it stands to reason that no one ever shall. In any case, tonight we sit. Perhaps not quite to the point of despair, but certainly with little hope that our traps, which did so poorly the last few days, will redeem themselves or us. I include some photos from a happier time when traps were full of fishers and our moods more salubrious.