Redwoods to the Sea Forest Carnivore Tracking Project

Where Have All the Martens Gone?

Humboldt Marten.
Humboldt Marten.

From time to time, a resident in Humboldt County will submit a report claiming to have spotted a Pacific fisher or a Humboldt marten. Because Pacific fishers are rare, and because the Humboldt marten was previously thought to be extinct due to human influences such as trapping and logging in their old-growth conifer habitat, these animals remain barely documented. The Corridor from the Redwoods to the Sea, built as a passageway for wild creatures, appears to be prime location to spot small carnivores such as fishers and martens, but despite local accounts, the rare sightings remain unverified by scientists. Where have these small predators gone?

Margaret Noel Soucy from Ancient Forests International set off to prove the existence of the rare and endangered carnivores in the Corridor from the Redwoods to the Sea, which includes areas of Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Gilham Butte Late Seral Reserve and the King Range National Conservation Area. Using motion cameras and track-box stations to record animal prints, Soucy surveyed the mammals in the corridor region. The track boxes identified a wide range of predators: ringtail cats, gray foxes, black bears, spotted and striped skunks, opossums, and creatures such as chipmunks and mice.

Thus far, however, the Pacific fisher and Humboldt marten remain elusive. The Humboldt marten was considered extinct until 1997, when a small population was discovered roaming in Del Norte County. Pacific fishers have been on petitions for listing as an endangered species, and the Pacific fisher and the Humboldt marten are “Species of Special Concern” in California. An original purpose of the Corridor from the Redwoods to the Sea was to provide habitat connectivity for rare creatures such as Pacific fisher, Humboldt marten and northern spotted owl, but research has not documented their use of the region. Surveying these mesocarnivores (small to midsize carnivores) has not been possible for land managers.

Soucy hopes her quest to spot the rare predators in the wildlife corridor will raise awareness about mesocarnivores and their conservation. Carnivores are indicators of ecosystem health; their presence — or absence — could indicate the conditions of the forest. Soucy continues to search for the Humboldt marten and Pacific fisher in the wildlife corridor. She emphasizes that both species should be included in ecosystem management and biodiversity planning efforts in the coast redwood zone.

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