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Groups Fight to Save Rare, Mink-like Carnivore in California and Oregon

Lawsuit Will Challenge Failure to Protect the Coastal Marten

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Protection Information Center filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to protect the coastal marten, a secretive member of the weasel family, under the Endangered Species Act. The groups, represented by the public interest law firm Earthjustice, petitioned in 2010 for federal protection of the rare carnivore, then known as the Humboldt marten, but the Service issued a decision denying protection earlier this year.

A small carnivore related to minks and otters, the coastal marten is found only in old-growth forest and dense coastal shrub in Northern California and southern and central coastal Oregon. Once extensively trapped for their fur, the cat-like animals were once common, but now fewer than 100 of them survive in California, while an unknown, but very small, number are still found in Oregon.

“The science clearly shows that coastal martens are some of the most endangered animals in the United States,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity and lead author of the petition to protect the marten. “Denying protection to the coastal marten is a blatant example of the Fish and Wildlife Service caving to pressure from the timber industry — at the expense of an irreplaceable creature.”

Coastal martens were believed extinct — with 95 percent of their old-growth forest habitat lost and a history of excessive trapping — until they were rediscovered on the Six Rivers National Forest in 1996. In 2009 the first marten to be photographed in recent times was detected in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park by remote-sensing camera.

“It’s unjustifiable that the Service denied protection for the coastal marten,” said Rob DiPerna, EPIC’s California forest and wildlife advocate. “We already nearly lost the coastal marten to extinction, and so now we need to do everything we can to protect this special part of our natural heritage.”

These martens’ historic range extends from Sonoma County in coastal California north through the coastal mountains of Oregon. In Oregon the marten lives in the Siskiyou and Siuslaw national forests.

“This is one of those unfortunate cases where science got streamrolled by political expediency,” said Greg Loarie, attorney for Earthjustice representing the groups. “It’s impossible to reconcile the Fish and Wildlife Service’s own finding that coastal martens are gone from 95 percent of their historic range in California and down to the last 100 individuals with the Service’s conclusion that martens don’t desperately need protection under the Endangered Species Act.”

The extremely secretive animals are known for their slinky walking motion and ferocious hunting skills. Typically about 2 feet long, with large, triangular ears and a long tail, they eat smaller mammals, berries and birds, and are preyed on by larger mammals and raptors.


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