Saving the Humboldt Marten

Humboldt marten, otherwise known as the coastal or pacific marten is one of the 14 recognized subspecies of the American marten. This tiny carnivore can be found only on the west coast.

Similar to many native species in Oregon, Humboldt marten have seen their population dwindle dramatically over the course of the last century. However, the extent of this decline was only recently recognized. In 2001, scientists speculated that the coastal marten was actually rather abundant. They based this assumption on the high number of road kills they retrieved along Highway 101, Oregon's coastal highway. After further research, they determined that these marten were in fact extremely rare, and those roadkills were significantly impacting the greater population.

Today, scientists believe there are only about 71 Humboldt martens in central Oregon coast, separated into two smaller populations by the Umpqua River.

The main driver of imperilment for these marten, like so many other species, is habitat loss. Coastal martens prefer forests with multiple canopy layers, but will use shore pine dune forests with dense shrub cover, like they do in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation area. Unfortunately, crossing any of the roads that currently carve up these habitats has proven to be quite deadly. These marten have also suffered from a decline in prey and a vulnerability to predators as the severe fragmentation of their habitat by roads and clearcuts forces them out into the open. 

With the marten already facing this much adversity, recent studies reveal that just one or two human-caused mortalities within the distinct population segments could put this species at risk of complete extinction.

What’s even more shocking? In Oregon, because the marten is listed as a ‘fur-bearing mammal’-- and there is no distinction between marten and the imperiled ‘Humboldt marten’ subspecies-- it’s legal to trap them. That’s why Oregon Wild and our partners in conservation filed a petition with the Oregon Fish and Wildlife ( ODFW) Commission, asking them to ban trapping. At the August hearing, the Commission accepted our petition, however has yet to finalize any rules to protect the Humboldt marten.

Conservation groups also filed a petition to get the coastal marten listed as ‘endangered’ under the state Endangered Species Act. Unfortunately, the Commission once again, ignored the call to protect native wildlife, and instead, denied our petition to list the species. 

This decision, in addition to a myriad of other anti-conservation actions, all underscore the need for Oregon Governor Kate Brown to appoint more conservation-minded individuals to the ODFW Commission. The future of the Humboldt marten, marbled murrelet, wolves, and many other native species are counting on it.

Photo Credits: 
Humboldt marten courtesy Siuslaw National Forest, USFS