Feds List Land in 6 Oregon Counties As Critical Habitat Of Endangered Coastal Marten

Theo Crazzolara/Creative Commons

Only around 400 of the threatened carnivores live in the wild.

Share this article!

The federal government has assigned protected status to 1.2 million acres of habitat for a threatened subspecies of marten native to the Pacific Northwest.

Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated critical habitat of the coastal or Humboldt marten in Southern Oregon and Northern California. That includes land in the Oregon counties of Coos, Curry, Douglas, Josephine, Lane and Lincoln. About 13,000 acres are home to an isolated population in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.

Only 400 coastal martens are left in the wild. They were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2020.

The impetus for the recent habitat designation was a 2023 lawsuit by the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, which alleged the federal government had missed a deadline to enact protections. A representative of the center told Oregon Public Broadcasting that off-road vehicle use at the dunes is a threat and the Forest Service doesn’t currently offer many effective conservation measures.

Coastal martens are one of 14 subspecies of marten. Bold, voracious and elusive to researchers, the small carnivores lead largely solitary lives, much of which are spent patrolling their ranges and preying on anything from deer mice to squirrels to birds.

Over-interest in the coastal marten’s soft and light-colored pelt led California to ban trapping in 1946. (Oregon didn’t do so until 2019.)

They once filled the Pacific forests but trapping, logging and wildfire have caused steep declines in distribution and abundance of the marten. They’ve lost around 93% of their historic habitat. The subspecies was considered extinct for decades until the late 1990s, when individuals were found in the Six Rivers National Forest. Today they’re found in three isolated populations. They prefer coniferous old growth forests with multiple canopy layers but they’re hardy animals and researchers have observed them inhabiting shore pine areas with dense shrub cover like the Oregon dunes.

In 2020, Portland writer Julia Rosen explored the dunes population of coastal marten for an in-depth article that appeared in High Country News. She found the resilient creatures face a host of modern threats from a lack of genetic diversity to traffic on Highway 101, which separates the dunes population from vast inland forests. Researchers believe that long before modern human settlement, more of the Oregon coast resembled the dunes. And they wonder why coastal martens are so resilient in this unique landscape rather than their former rangelands across the highway.

Under a critical habitat designation, any federal projects in those areas must account for any harmful impacts on the marten. This includes all work funded or permitted by the federal government.

A representative of the Center for Biological Diversity was disappointed the recently designated area didn’t include a future home for the martens to help grow their populations. Land owned by timber company Green Diamond Resources was excluded from the designation area in exchange for an agreement to perform monitoring and create a reserve, OPB reported. Some tribal land was also excluded.

Click here to subscribe to Oregon Business.

Latest from Garrett Andrews