The California Fish and Game Commission voted on Aug. 23, to protect the Humboldt marten under the California Endangered Species Act.
Fewer than 200 of the cat-like relative of minks and otters still dwell in Del Norte, Humboldt and Siskiyou counties. They historically were found in the coastal redwood forests from Sonoma County to Curry County, Oregon. More than 95 percent of their historic habitat has been lost to logging, according to environmental organizations.
The nonprofit Environmental Protection Information Center in Arcata in Humboldt County and the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco petitioned for the protection of the secretive carnivore’s protection in 2015.
“Humboldt martens are the wild heart of the Pacific Northwest’s ancient forests, so I hope state protection will be the 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,” Curry said.
The Humboldt martens were believed to be extinct until they were rediscovered in the redwoods in 1996. There are two surviving populations on national forest land in Oregon and two in Northern California.
Martens are threatened in California by ongoing logging of mature forest, loss of closed canopy habitat to wildfires and rodent poison used in marijuana cultivation, the environmental organizations said.
The species is at high risk of extinction because of its small population and isolation by unsuitable habitat. The martens face bobcats and coyotes if they cross clear cuts and enter open areas.
Martens weigh a few pounds and grow to two feet long. They have large, triangular ears and a long tail. They feed on small animals, birds, reptiles, insects, and berries and they are eaten by larger mammals and raptors.
The Humboldt martens are under review for federal Endangered Species Act protection, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is scheduled to publish a decision on that protection by Oct. 1.
By James Lanaras