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Protections For Humboldt Marten Delayed, Prompting Lawsuit

Humboldt marten.
Courtesy of Mark Linnell, U.S. Forest Service.
Humboldt marten.

A small carnivore in the weasel family native to the old growth forests of coastal Oregon and northern California is the subject of a lawsuit filed this week. It focuses on listing the Humboldt marten under the Endangered Species Act.

The environmental nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Oakland, California on Monday. The agency failed to meet a deadline in March 2020 to complete a plan that would list the animal as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. There are an estimated 400 Humboldt marten left.

“Threatened is an important recognition that they are in need of protections,” says Quinn Read, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is a species that we thought was extinct until 1996.”

In 2018 the federal agency said the marten would be listed as threatened, making it illegal to harass or kill the creatures, but the final decision for that listing never took place.

In a statement, a representative from the Fish and Wildlife Service said the agency is “committed to meeting all of our obligations under the Endangered Species Act” and that they prioritize the most at-risk species for protection. They said litigation related to environmental species “diverts limited resources and attention from species conservation and recovery.”

Over a century of logging and trapping nearly eradicated the Humboldt marten. Efforts to protect the species have been ongoing for over a decade.

The proposed listing rule includes several exemptions to impacts on marten due to forestry management practices including activities to reduce the risk of wildfire and forest management designed around conservation of the marten.

“We’re so close,” Read says. “Really all we need is the finalization of this rule. The service is just dragging their heels.”

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.