Don’t let the furry face of the Humboldt marten fool you — it’s not harmless.
The little critters, who weigh up to around 3 pounds, and who live in dense old-growth forests along the North Coast, are about as docile as pit bulls, according to Tierra Curry, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity.
But threats from cannabis grows, timber harvest and other larger species, put the species’ survival at risk. And with less than 400 of the species surviving in the wild, the California Fish and Game Commission is set to determine whether they deserve protection under the California Endanger Species Act. That decision will be made Aug. 23 at the groups monthly meeting, which will take place in Fortuna.
“[They’re] super cute and super ferocious and they deserve our help,” Curry said.
The Center for Biological Diversity partnered with the Arcata-based Environmental Protection Information Center to petition the state for the endangered listing. A status review made available Thursday from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife says that listing is warranted.
“The [California Department of Fish and Wildlife] finds that without protections afforded by [the California Endangered Species Act], the continued existence of the Humboldt marten is in serious danger,” the review states.
Various efforts have been underway at the state and federal level to address the threats to the Humboldt marten, but have failed to progress to the point of instituting protections. In California, the Humboldt marten is designated a California Species of Special Concern, but that does not ensure protection because it is not regulatory.
Until 1996, the Humboldt marten was believed to be extinct, but at that time it was spotted in Six Rivers National Forest. There are currently two distinct populations in California, one along the coast and another closer to the Oregon border. There are also two populations in Southern Oregon. Each of the four groups number less than 100 species, Curry said, and none interact with each other. In Oregon, she said, trapping of the Humboldt martens is still legal — something that was outlawed in California in 1946. Like minks, who are a related biologically, Humboldt martens are valued for their furs.
“Human activity nearly drove the marten to extinction,” Tom Wheeler, executive director of EPIC, said in a statement. “Because of the marten’s rediscovery, we were given another shot to save the Humboldt marten. We can’t blow it this time. We owe it to future generations and to the Humboldt marten.”
Rob DiPerna, EPIC’s California forest and wildlife advocate, said there are various ongoing threats to the Humboldt marten population.
“Small isolated populations combined with toxic exposure from cannabis or logging and roads [threaten survival],” he said. “Many of those things can drive them into areas where predation becomes a problem, like bobcats. ... Vehicle collisions are also a very real concern where they are trying to get from one undisturbed area to another.”
In addition to the present threats to the species, the historic range of the marten is dramatically smaller today that what it was a century ago. The Humboldt marten used to be found from the northwestern part of Sonoma County through to Oregon’s Curry County.
“In California, over the last 25 years Humboldt martens have only been detected in Del Norte, northern Humboldt, and extreme western Siskiyou counties; suggesting a range reduction greater than 93 percent,” the CDFW status review states.
If protections are granted in California, those protections become immediate.
“It prohibits people from taking martens, catching them or harming them,” said Dan Applebee, an environmental scientist with the CDFW and someone who worked on the status review.
For businesses that have plans for Humboldt marten habitat, this means more environmental review.
“We would want to make sure any action such as a timber harvest plan or a road project doesn’t harm martens,” Applebee said.
“Anything that goes through [California Environmental Quality Act], we get to comment on,” he added.
Curry said that an update on the federal status could come in September — a process that originally began in 2010. She said that the change in administration between then and now might not mean bad news for the Humboldt marten protections.
“For a lot of species, we’ve seen the Trump administration make bad decisions,” she said. “For this species, the Obama administration threw it under the bus. But the science is really clear. It’s endangered.”
She added that even if the Humboldt marten is given the OK to be added to the waiting list of endangered species, it might take decades before its official designation.
“Forty-two species have gone extinct on the candidate list,” Curry said.
Both EPIC and the Center for Biological Diversity applauded the findings of the CDFW status review.
“We are appreciative for the recommendation for the listing of endangered,” said DiPerna. “We think that is correct and warranted. We are now are squarely focus on getting the species back on its feet.”
The determination is expected to be made at a California Fish and Game Commission meeting set for Aug. 23 at the River Lodge in Fortuna. A time for the meeting is not yet set nor is an agenda available, but it will be open to the public. An email seeking comment from a local Fish and Game Commission member was not returned by the publishing deadline.
Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.