Yesterday, I went for a long day hike. 16 miles along the Redwood Creek Trail in northern Humboldt County I found my thoughts wondering and clearing as my body ached. Somewhere along the trail, a little critter crossed my path.
At first, I thought I was seeing someone’s house cat or a feral one, yet there were no residences for many, many miles. The animal stopped and looked at me for several minutes, while I stopped and looked at it unsure what I was seeing. It was clearly not a cat. My first thought was marmot, but it wasn’t large enough. Then I thought mink, as it had beautiful fur.
When I returned to the trailhead and internet connection, I discovered what had crossed my path was a Humboldt marten. I felt blessed.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity:
The Humboldt marten is a cat-sized carnivore related to minks and otters that lives in old-growth forests in Northern California and southern Oregon. Most of the marten’s forest habitat has been destroyed by logging, and the remaining martens in California likely number fewer than 100 individuals. Consequently, California’s Humboldt martens are at grave risk of being lost entirely from the state.
“California’s Humboldt martens have been eliminated from 95 percent of their historic range,” said Rob DiPerna, EPIC’s California Forest and Wildlife Advocate. “Survival and recovery of the marten demands immediate action.”
The historic range of the marten extends from Sonoma County in coastal California north through the coastal mountains of Oregon. Once thought extinct, the Humboldt marten was rediscovered on the Six Rivers National Forest in 1996. Since that time, researchers have continued to detect martens in California, but also determined that Humboldt martens declined substantially between 2001 and 2008 and have not rebounded from that decline. http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2015/humboldt-marten-06-01-2015.html
I was definitely hiking in its habitat. Old growth redwood trees along the creek, yet also evidence of past logging surrounded the trail. Countless herons and egrets were disturbed by my footsteps. Yet the blessing of seeing the rare and endangered Humboldt marten is indescribable.
Prior to the Gold Rush, a “Fur Rush” occurred in northern California. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Fur_Rush Many species were hunted to near extinction or complete extinction from certain habitats. The Humboldt marten was no exception. After the Gold Rush, the logging that followed until modern times further decimated the species. The National Park Service explains:
Martens, along with fishers, sea otters, ermines, and minks, were highly valued for their pelts and heavily trapped for the commercial fur market. Declining harvests led California to prohibit marten trapping in the northwest corner of the state in 1946. Despite the length of time since commercial harvest ceased, the marten population has not recovered. Research suggests that much of the best habitat for the Humboldt marten in the coastal redwood forests was eliminated by accelerated harvesting following World War II. In the last century, roughly 95 percent of the mature and old-growth redwood forests were converted to stands now 80 years old or less. The short harvest rotations of the past 50 years have inhibited development of large trees with a complex understory. Without their favored habitat, there has been limited opportunity for the Humboldt marten to rebound.
The historic range of the Humboldt marten was described as sea level to about 3,000 feet (914 m) along the narrow, humid, coastal strip, chiefly within the redwood belt, from the Oregon state line south to Sonoma County. By the 1950s, populations of Humboldt martens were highly reduced. Currently, a single population of the Humboldt marten (not including the detections within RNSP) occupies an area that is less than five percent of its former range and is estimated at less than 100 individuals.
There are few remaining blocks of coastal old-growth forest large enough to support additional marten populations in northwestern California.http://www.nps.gov/redw/learn/nature/fisher-and-humboldt-marten.htm
The Humboldt marten should be an endangered species, yet it has been repeatedly denied listing. In 2010 the Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Protection Information Center filed for endangered species listing:
In 2010, the Center and allies petitioned for protection of the marten under the Act. The Service determined in January that the marten “may warrant” protection as an endangered species, but by September 2011 had failed to decide, within the one year required by law, whether to award that protection. If this “12-month finding” is positive, some protections will immediately go into effect for the marten.
A cat-sized carnivore related to minks and otters, the Humboldt marten was once relatively common in coastal old-growth forests in Northern California and southern and central coastal Oregon. The marten has been lost from more than 95 percent of its historical California range and from the vast majority of its Oregon range due to logging. At last count there were only an estimated 20 martens in the California population and an unknown but likely equally small number in Oregon. Scientists estimate the total surviving population at fewer than 100 animals.
Because almost all of its old-growth forest habitat has been destroyed by logging, the Humboldt marten was believed extinct for 50 years. It was rediscovered in the Six Rivers National Forest in 1996, and in 2009 the first marten to be photographed in recent times was detected in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park by a remote-sensing camera. In Oregon, the marten lives in the Siskiyou and Siuslaw national forests. http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2012/humboldt-marten-07-02-2012.html
Protection has been sought again earlier this summer on June 1, 2015.
The Fish and Game Commission has 10 days to refer the petition to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The department in turn has 90 days to make its recommendation as to whether the petition presents substantial information indicating that protecting the marten under the California Endangered Species Act may be warranted. After the department’s recommendation is received, the commission must make its own determination as to whether listing of the marten may be warranted. If so, the department will then have one year to conduct a more thorough status review of the marten.
Though fewer than 100 martens remain in California, last month the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to protect them under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Center, which petitioned for federal protection for the marten in 2010, plans to challenge the decision.
“The denial of protection is simply not a scientifically defensible decision,” said Augustine.http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2015/humboldt-marten-06-01-2015.html
According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service:
Official Status: Species of Concern, the Humboldt marten does not have any special status under the Endangered Species Act at this time, but is considered a mammalian Species of Special Concern by the State of California http://www.fws.gov/arcata/es/mammals/HumboldtMarten/humbMarten.html
How could an animal with such limited habitat and population not be listed as an endangered species? How could a species once thought extinct not be listed?
I feel blessed to have seen this rare beauty.