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Greens Fight USA to Save the Coastal Marten

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The federal government's "inexplicable" refusal to protect the coastal marten has driven the animal to "the brink of extinction," the Center for Biological Diversity claims in court.

Martens are small carnivores related to minks, otters and fishers, with long, slender bodies, foxlike faces and large triangular ears.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service itself - the lead defendant - coastal martens, once widespread, have been exterminated in 83 percent of their historic range, in Coastal Oregon and Northern California.

"The few coastal martens still surviving must contend with ever-shrinking forests, prey laced with poisons from illicit marijuana cultivation, genetic isolation, road kill and more. Sadly, coastal martens are on the brink of extinction," the Center says in its Dec. 16 federal complaint.

Joined by the Environmental Protection Information Center, the Center for Biological Diversity sued the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Secretary of the Interior. Attached to the complaint is a March 2012 letter to Fish and Wildlife, signed by 89 environmental groups, requesting federal protection for the coastal marten.

"Despite these indisputable facts and contrary to a comprehensive assessment performed by its own staff scientists, the Service concluded on April 7, 2015, that coastal martens do not warrant listing as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act," the complaint states.

The coastal marten is a "discrete and biologically significant population of Pacific marten (Martes caurina)," according to the complaint. It is a "quintessential 'old forest' species'" that lives in mature forests "composed of long-lived, large trees, with multilayered canopy structure, substantial large woody debris (standing and downed) and abundant ferns, herbs and shrubs on the forest floor."

The plaintiffs asked the Forest Service in 2010 to list the species as threatened or endangered, and though it did not, it found there was enough evidence to warrant a comprehensive review of the species' taxonomy and status. Forest Service biologists submitted a Species Report in April this that recommended protection, according to the complaint.

"Based on the best scientific and commercial data available, the Service's Species Report confirms that there are only two small populations of martens remaining on the Oregon Coast, and just one tiny population, likely consisting of fewer than 100 individuals, on the North Coast of California," according to the complaint. "The Species Report confirms that these three remaining populations occupy collectively less than 17 percents of the marten's historic range."

The report indicates that the three remaining populations are "declining in number," in part because they are "functionally isolated from one another, limiting the opportunity for genetic exchange between populations" and are therefore eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The defendants' refusal to protect it, therefore, is nonsensical, the plaintiffs say.

"Having resolved that coastal martens are eligible for protection under the ESA, the Service's final finding concludes inexplicably that coastal martens are not at risk of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range, either now or in the foreseeable future. The Service's final finding therefore asserts that listing coastal martens as a threatened or endangered species under the ESA is 'not warranted.'"

The Forest Service based its ruling on an "illegal listing policy" adopted in 2014 that misinterprets the phrase "significant portion of its range," the complaint states. The groups say the "illegal listing policy ... conflicts with the plain language of the ESA."

The Forest Service blew off its own scientists' Species Report, and claimed that "we do not have evidence to suggest that the populations are likely entirely isolated from on another," and that "there is no empirical evidence that any current populations ... are in decline," according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs ask the court to declare the defendants' findings "illegal;" their "not warranted" finding arbitrary, capricious and unscientific; their 2014 SPR policy (significant portion of its range) in violation of the Endangered Species Act; and the finding remanded with proper instructions.

They are represented by Greg Loarie with Earthjustice, who was not available for comment over the weekend.

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