The coastal marten (Martes caurina humboldtensis), known best around these parts as the “Humboldt marten,” is a stealthy, cat-sized forest carnivore in the weasel family (related to minks and otters). These extremely secretive animals are known for their slinky walking motion and ability to prey on porcupines by biting them on the face.
Typically about two feet long, with large, triangular ears and a long tail, they eat small mammals, berries and birds, and are preyed on by larger mammals and raptors.
The Humboldt marten virtually disappeared from California due to a combination of trapping—its coat, which looks far better on the marten than on a human, is undeniably stunning—and logging. Trapping the marten is currently prohibited, but logging of marten habitat still occurs without abandon within its range. Marten prefer older forest types where they can hide from predators under a thicket of ferns, salal, and huckleberry, and where prey like wood rats abound. While they can utilize other forest types, including younger stands, these forests are not ideal for the marten. Martens are also sensitive to forest fragmentation. Aware of the risk of a hungry bobcat, the Humboldt marten does not like to be out in the open, exposed and far from a hiding spot.
California’s last remaining population of Humboldt martens is so small that they were once thought to be extinct. In 1996, after 35,000 survey nights were logged using baited track plates and infrared cameras placed throughout forests in Northwest California and yielded no detections, a Humboldt marten boldly left his print on a track plate located in a remote section of Six Rivers National Forest. The Humboldt marten was alive!
However, California’s sole Humboldt marten population is not doing well. In 1998, researchers estimated that there were likely around 60 martens left in California, located near the Humboldt/Del Norte border. Alarmingly, between 2001 and 2012, the most recent survey information publicly available, the remaining population of Humboldt marten has declined to approximately 40 martens—a drop of 42 percent! Keep in mind, this was largely before the record setting drought. This number is so low that a single event, such as disease, poisoning or fire could eradicate all coastal marten from California. This number is also so low that the species could simply drift towards extinction.
Alarmed by the extremely low population, in 2010 EPIC and allies petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Humboldt marten under the federal Endangered Species Act. By listing, the species would have received important protections necessary to prevent the marten’s extinction. We were shocked in Spring 2015 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refused to protect the marten. Without federal protection, but needing to do something, we turned to the California Fish and Game Commission. We sued the Fish and Wildlife Service too, for good measure, as their refusal to protect the marten was clearly against the law.
Shortly after the listing was denied, we filed our petition to list the marten under the California Endangered Species Act.
On February 11, the Fish and Game Commission will determine whether to take the first step in protecting the marten under the California Endangered Species Act by deciding whether it should be a candidate for final listing.By declaring the marten a candidate, the Fish and Game Commission will trigger a one-year review period after which the Commission will make a final decision on whether to protect the Humboldt marten. This is a crucial first step. Because the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to honor its duty to protect the marten, it is even more critical that the Fish and Game Commission move forward with protecting the marten.
Listing the marten under the California Endangered Species Act will not only prohibit humans from harming the marten—in legal parlance, all individuals are prohibited from “taking” the marten—but it will also open up private and government funding sources for restoration activities.