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Feds Decide Not To Protect Rare Weasel, Lawsuit Looms

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The Humboldt marten, which got no love from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week | Photo: U.S. Forest Service

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday that it won't be adding the Humboldt marten to the Endangered Species list, prompting a promise from one environmental group that it would sue to reverse the decision.

The Humboldt marten, Martes americana humboldtensis, is a cat-sized carnivore that's so rare biologists actually considered it extinct until it was re-found in 1996. USFWS had been considering whether to protect the marten under the Endangered Species Act as the result of a 2010 petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued the agency when it failed to make a deadline to decide whether or not to list the critter in 2012.

In Tuesday's finding, USFWS says that despite the animal's rarity, and despite admitted threats from logging, anticoagulant rodenticides, illegal pot grows in its north woods habitat, and other factors, threats to the marten don't rise to the level that would warrant the agency's granting protection under the Endangered Species Act. In response, a representative of the Center for Biological Diversity has promised the group will sue to change USFWS' mind.

In a press announcement accompanying the decision, USFWS said that despite myriad threats to the Humboldt marten including "wildfire, climate change... timber harvest, development, trapping and research, disease, predation, collision with vehicles, exposure to toxicants such as rodenticides, and effects associated with small and isolated populations," the agency had decided none of those threats, considered singly or cumulatively warranted protecting the Humboldt marten and two related populations in Oregon under the Endangered Species Act.

"After a thorough evaluation of the best information and data available," wrote USFWS in its finding,

the Service concluded that these stressors do not rise to the level of a threat either individually or cumulatively. As part of its evaluation, the Service also determined that existing regulations involving multiple Federal and State land use plans are being implemented effectively. In addition, policies and regulations associated with the Northwest Forest Plan continue to abate the large-scale loss of forested habitat types that may be suitable for coastal martens.

That decision by USFWS is more complex than many such findings. As we reported last year, the actual taxonomic status of the Humboldt marten is under dispute. When listing was first proposed, the marten was considered a subspecies of the more widespread American marten, Martes americana. That species was later split into eastern and western species, and recent genetic research indicates that the Humboldt marten, once thought restricted to the California north coast, may actually be quite closely related to coastal populations of marten in Oregon.

USFWS ended up considering both the Humboldt and the coastal Oregon martens as the same taxonomic unit for purposes of deciding whether to list them, and came back with a finding that listing is not warranted.

Biologist Tierra Curry, who wrote the Center's 2010 petition asking that the Humboldt marten be protected, told the North Coast Journal that she was shocked by the decision not to list the marten. "It's not a scientifically defensible decision. They're obviously threatened."

Curry, who told Journal reporter Grant Scott-Goforth that there are fewer than 100 Humboldt martens left, said the Center planned to sue after this week's decision by USFWS.

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