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Government Delays a Bad Sign for Humboldt Marten

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

CA Dep’t of Fish and Wildlife Delaying Listing of the Humboldt Marten

Humboldt marten in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
Humboldt marten in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Photo by Ben Kazez via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is playing political games with the Humboldt marten. The Department is holding up the listing of the critically endangered Humboldt marten. Why? Because it wants to blunt the impact of the listing on the timber industry by fast tracking a “Safe Harbor Agreement.” We expect this level of chicanery when dealing with the federal government, but we are sorely disappointed when it comes from the Brown Administration.

In 2015, EPIC petitioned to list the Humboldt marten under the California Endangered Species Act—a necessary step to protect the marten because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illegally failed to federally list the species. (As a recap: we sued USFWS and won, with a judge finding the federal agency relied on bad logic and science, ordering a redo by the agency.) The Fish and Game Commission moved to make the marten a “candidate” species in February 2016, triggering a legal duty on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to develop a “status review and recommendation” to the Commission within one year. This status review is supposed to be the best science on the species, and the Department is supposed to then recommend whether the Commission list the species.

Fast forward one year: the Department returned to the Commission and said it wouldn’t be ready in time and asked for a six month extension. By law, the Commission is only supposed to grant an extension when it is necessary to complete peer review on the status review. The Department was then given a new deadline of August 2017 to complete the status review. August came and went. EPIC inquired about the progress of the status review and were told that the Department had not even begun peer review and that they could not provide a date by which they thought they would have the status review complete and delivered to the Commission. In other words, the Department illegally obtained an extension and is now ignoring their duty to produce the status review and recommendation.

In the meantime, it has come to light that the Department has been putting considerable effort into developing a “Safe Harbor Agreement” with Green Diamond Resource Company, the primary private property owner that would be impacted by the marten’s listing. The practical effect on the status review of the “Safe Harbor Agreement” is that Green Diamond would not be subject to the “take” prohibition of the California Endangered Species Act. EPIC has not even been provided a draft version of the Safe Harbor Agreement—we’ve had to ask and have filed a Public Records Act request—but the secrecy under which the agency is developing the agreement is alarming.

EPIC is likewise afraid that the Department will finalize the agreement and then use it as a cudgel against listing the marten, a move that the Department could have learned from the greater sage grouse debate; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to list that species after it had extracted a voluntary management plan that it said negated the need for listing. Thus, the Department could (and it is obvious that the timber industry will) use the existence of the Safe Harbor Agreement to argue that additional conservation measures are not necessary.

There are less than 100 Humboldt martens left in California. Unless drastic action is taken, the marten will go extinct. Now’s not the time to be playing political games.


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