On August 23, the California Fish and Game Commission may decide that the humble Humboldt marten deserves to be protected under the California Endangered Species Act. We already almost lost this cat-sized animal before; until 1966, it was believed to be extinct. What exactly are Humboldt martens and why are they so at risk?
A cute (endangered) killer
Around two-feet long and just three pounds, the black-eyed, bushy-tailed Humboldt marten looks like a stuffed animal. They live in thick forests along the coasts of California and Oregon. Despite their cute looks, they are fierce and capable of killing porcupines by attacking the face if necessary. They also eat bugs, fruit, reptiles, birds, chipmunks, and squirrels. In 1946, the Humboldt marten disappeared, and experts believed they had gone extinct because of hunting and the destruction of their old-growth forest habitat.
Decades later, a wildlife camera in Six Rivers National Forest caught sight of a single Humboldt marten. A survey discovered at least 60 more in 2000 and 2001, but that number dropped to 40 in 2008. They had survived, but barely. It doesn’t help that the population groups don’t interact with each other – there are two in California and two in Southern Oregon. Total, there may be as few as 300 individuals in the wild. They are so rare that if just 2-3 die every year from trapping or getting hit by a car, it could wipe out the population very quickly.
What is threatening them?
In addition to slow population growth, climate change and deforestation is taking its toll on the Humboldt marten. In the county that bears the same name, between 4,000-15,000 cultivation sites for cannabis are driving out the marten and killing it. The ideal areas for weed crops are unfortunately areas where the Humboldt marten thrives as well. Cultivation destroys the shrubs and trees the martens use to hide and hunt, leaving them without a home. Marijuana growers also use powerful rodenticides (not all of which are legal) to kill the rats that attack the crop, but it’s killing other animals like owls and weasels. There’s no doubt that martens are also at risk since eating a poisoned animal also poisons the hunter. A Humboldt marten can die painfully from internal bleeding.
It’s also still legal in Oregon to hunt Humboldt martens for their fur. Sadly, the fact that they are so rare makes their mink-like fur even more valuable. The marten needs protection from an environmental agency, but they’ve been dragging their feet for years. One attorney for EarthJustice discovered that compelling evidence to protect the marten was strangely changed in the final report from 2015, while just earlier this year, the U.S. and Wildlife Service again refused to extend protection to the animal. This August, we can only hope that the California Fish and Game Commission steps up to the plate.
What can I do?
There isn’t much we can do as individuals to help save the Humboldt marten, but that doesn’t mean we do nothing. A lot of petitions are circling around the internet and signing them shows the agencies in charge of endangered animals acts that the people care. You can also fight against the use of illegal rodenticides and illegal trapping. Perhaps the best thing we can do is educate ourselves and others about good environmental stewardship and pay attention to who is in charge. Knowledge is power.
What other animals are on the brink of extinction? Read this article to find out.