State wildlife officials have recommended the Humboldt marten to be listed as an endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act.
With the population in California numbering less than 200 individuals, the recommendation to list the animal as endangered came in response to a 2015 petition filed by the Environmental Protection Information Center and the Center for Biological Diversity.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife staff presented the recommendation to the California Fish and Game Commission on Thursday, said EPIC Executive Director Tom Wheeler. The commission will make a final decision on the marten’s listing at its Aug. 23 meeting in Fortuna.
Wheeler said CDFW sent EPIC a letter informing the organization of the recommendation after it filed a Public Records Act request.
Humboldt martens are relatives of minks and otters and are found in old-growth forests and dense coastal shrub, according to EPIC. They are typically two-feet long, have large triangular ears and a long tail. They subsist on small mammals, berries and birds and are eaten by large mammals and raptors, according to EPIC.
In California, the Humboldt marten’s range was once from Sonoma County to the Oregon border. However, habitat loss and trapping historically and, more recently, exposure to rodenticides, have diminished their numbers to the extent that they are only found on the Six Rivers National Forest in southern Del Norte County, western Siskiyou County and northern Humboldt County, Wheeler said.
They are incredibly rare and elusive, so much so that at one point scientists thought they were extinct, Wheeler said. They were rediscovered, but during the most recent population survey in 2012, scientists counted only about 100 individual animals, he said. The current official CDFW estimate is about 200 individual animals, Wheeler said. He noted that with a such a small population, threats to the Humboldt marten are magnified.
“One thing that’s worrisome is that in California we basically have one large population and one smaller population,” he said. “It’s unclear whether or not these two interbreed, but if we have one sort-of catastrophic event that could theoretically mean the extinction of the marten in California.”
Wheeler spoke of another population of martens isolated in a coastal dune forest in Oregon.
“If there was a tsunami, it’s possible that tsunami could take out all these martens,” he said.
Placing the Humboldt marten on the California Endangered Species List makes it illegal for an individual to take a marten, Wheeler said. It helps the state funnel money to species conservation work, including land acquisition, habitat improvement projects and translocation efforts, he said.
For the Humboldt marten, establishing a habitat corridor from the Six Rivers National Forest through Green Diamond and Yurok Tribal lands and across the Klamath River to Redwood National and State Parks is important, Wheeler said.
Meanwhile, EPIC has filed a “rule-making position” to make it illegal to trap the Humboldt marten in Oregon, Wheeler said.
“We have a second chance to save this species, so we need to do everything within our power to ensure it survives into the future,” he said. “Not just for the Humboldt marten’s sake... it’s for my kids and others so that they can have these around and experience them and get the joy that I get out of knowing that Humboldt martens exist.”