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Threatened coastal martens get critical habitat designation

The coastal marten was listed as a threatened species in 2020.
Mark Stevens
The Center for Biological Diversity
The coastal marten was listed as a threatened species in 2020.

This week the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service placed protections for this elusive member of the weasel family on 1.2 million acres located in northern California and southern Oregon.

The carnivorous, cat-seized coastal marten was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2020. But it took a lawsuit from the environmental group the Center for Biological Diversity for the marten’s home ranges to be finally designated as critical habitat. The organization sued the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service after the agency missed a deadline to enact the protections.

A critical habitat designation means federal projects in those areas, including funding and permitting, need to take into account any harmful impacts to the marten.

Chelsea Stewart-Fusek, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, celebrated the decision to protect the marten’s current isolated islands of habitat. But she said she was disappointed that the designation didn’t include areas that could be a future home for the marten in order to connect separated communities and better help grow their population.

“We think the goal isn't to merely maintain their current abysmally low numbers. It's to expand their populations and to hopefully recover them and get them off the Endangered Species Act list. So without protecting unoccupied habitat, we think that’ll be more difficult,” said Stewart-Fusek.

The new critical habitat area includes over 13,000 acres in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Stewart-Fusek said recreational off-road vehicle use in that area can threaten martens.

“Having the critical habitat designation there could result in the Forest Service implementing more conservation measures. They're really not doing much right now at all to mitigate for those impacts,” said Stewart-Fusek.

The coastal marten’s critical habitat includes land in the Oregon counties of Coos, Curry, Douglas, Josephine, Lane and Lincoln. The area also includes habitat in Del Norte and Siskiyou counties in California. Land owned by timber company Green Diamond Resources was ultimately excluded from the designation in exchange for the company’s agreement to perform monitoring and create a reserve. Yurok and Karuk tribal land was also excluded.

There’s only around 400 coastal martens left in the wild after disappearing from some 93% of their historic range. Also known as Humboldt and Pacific martens, the animals have faced threats from trapping, logging and wildfire.

Justin Higginbottom is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. He's worked in print and radio journalism in Utah as well as abroad with stints in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. He spent a year reporting on the Myanmar civil war and has contributed to NPR, CNBC and Deutsche Welle (Germany’s public media organization).