(CN) – A furry relative to minks and otters and native to the West Coast may get federal protection as threatened under the Endangered Species Act due to lost habitat, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Friday.
Once common along the West Coast in Northern California and Oregon, the Humboldt martens’ population has dwindled due to logging and trapping. This led Fish and Wildlife to propose the “threatened” listing for the creature.
Martens are from the mustelid family, which includes weasels, minks, otters and fishers. Approximately 400 Humboldt martens live in the wild on a narrow band of coastal habitat.
Getting the Humboldt marten “threatened” status has been an uphill battle for environmental groups, which were told at one point the animal did not qualify for protection.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Environmental Protection Information Center petitioned for the status change in 2010, but after four years of study Fish and Wildlife determined neither the species as a whole nor the tiny California subpopulation qualified for protection because the marten was not at risk of extinction in all or most of its range.
Those same groups challenged the study’s findings as not supported by the best available science. In 2017, a federal judge ordered the federal agency to re-evaluate its decision.
Friday’s proposal exempts logging activities and does not protect the martens’ habitat from the potential impact of the logging industry.
Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement that “it’s deeply troubling that the agency charged with safeguarding them isn’t protecting them from the habitat loss that’s pushing them toward extinction.”
In a statement, Tom Wheeler, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center said, “Today we celebrate the proposal to list the Humboldt marten but also urge the agency not to finalize any loopholes that would allow industrial logging to continue to destroy their habitat.”
A plethora of other human activities threaten the coastal marten, including logging of mature forests, which is where the animal likes to call home, and loss of closed-canopy forest habitat due to wildfires. Also, rodent poisons used in marijuana grows and run-ins with vehicles are also risks for the martens.
Friday’s proposal would make trapping the animal for its fur illegal in the state of Oregon.
At one point, the Humboldt martens were so rare that they were considered extinct, until they were spotted in the redwoods in 1996.
The federal government will now accept comments from the public on the proposed status change.
In 2016, a cousin of the marten – the Pacific fisher – received a similar denial from Fish and Wildlife, but this year a federal judge ordered the agency to reconsider the impact to the animal’s habitats in Oregon and Northern California.
Both martens and fishers share similar habitats, which face threat from wildfires.