Humboldt marten. Photo: Charlotte Eriksson, Oregon State University.

Press release from the Environmental Protection Information Center:

In response to a petition from conservation groups, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously today to protect the Humboldt marten under the state Endangered Species Act. 
The Environmental Protection Information Center and Center for Biological Diversity petitioned for the secretive carnivore’s protection in 2015. 

A relative of minks and otters that dwells in old-growth forests, fewer than 200 of the cat-like animals survive in California in Del Norte, Humboldt and Siskiyou counties. Humboldt martens have lost more than 95 percent of their historic habitat to logging. 

“We celebrate the state’s decision to protect the marten and also plan to continue watchdogging unsustainable forest practices that the state could exempt from protection that would undermine the recovery of this special animal,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center.

“Humboldt martens are the wild heart of the Pacific Northwest’s ancient forests, so I hope state protection will be a first step toward their recovery,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Losing these fierce, incredible little creatures to extinction would be unforgivable.” 

Humboldt martens were once common in the coastal mountains from Sonoma County north to the Columbia River in Oregon, but trapping and logging decimated and separated populations. Today there are just four small surviving populations, two on national forest lands in Oregon and two in Northern California. The animal is so rare it was considered extinct until it was rediscovered in the redwoods in 1996. 

In California martens are threatened by ongoing logging of mature forests, loss of closed-canopy habitat to wildfires and rodent poison used in marijuana cultivation. They are at high risk of extinction because of small population size and isolation by unsuitable habitat as they are reluctant to cross open areas. Martens that try to cross clear cuts face high rates of predation from bobcats and coyotes that hunt in open areas. 

Humboldt martens are under review for federal Endangered Species Act protection, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is under a court order to publish a decision on their protection by Oct. 1.  

A slinky member of the mustelid family, martens weigh just a few pounds and grow to be 2 feet long with large, triangular ears and a long tail. They eat small mammals, birds, reptiles, insects and berries, and are eaten by larger mammals and raptors.