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California Protects Rare Marten, Oregon Still Considering Options

Legal protections for the Humboldt marten are in flux across state lines. But things are more certain in California, where the Fish and Game Commission voted to list the small mammal as endangered.

August 23, 2018

California decided to protect the rare Humboldt marten Thursday under the state Endangered Species Act.  The mink-like animal only exists in four isolated populations near the coastline running along Southern Oregon and Northern California.

The California Fish and Game Commission voted Thursday to list the rare Humboldt marten as endangered.

Tierra Curry is a scientist with the Center For Biological Diversity, a group that petitioned for greater protections.

“So now martens and their habitat will be protected from any activities that can harm them, which is really great news because there are fewer than 200 martens surviving in California,” she said.

A Martin captured on a U.S. Forest Service camera.
New research concludes that trapping just a few Humboldt martens for their fur would put the species at risk of extinction.
Mark Linnell/U.S. Forest Service

It’s estimated that, altogether, fewer than 500 martens remain in Northern California and Southern Oregon.

The California Endangered Species Act protects species, as well as the habitat those species rely on. Listing the Humboldt marten will require landowners to go through additional regulatory measures if they plan activities that would impact the species. Those landowners could still get an incidental take permit that would allow martens to be killed during other legal activities.

Trapping and logging historically led to habitat fragmentation and population declines. The Humboldt marten was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in the mid-1990s. Now the species faces other challenges as well.

“In California, because the populations are so small and isolated, they’re threatened by fire, they’re threatened by rodenticide at marijuana grows, they’re threatened by climate change,” Curry said.

In Oregon, it’s still technically legal to trap Humboldt martens for their fur. That could change, though. In early August, Oregon wildlife officials agreed to draft new rules to ban the practice.  

Both Oregon and the federal government are currently considering petitions to grant endangered species protections. A court has ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a decision on whether to grant federal protections to the Humboldt marten by Oct. 1 of this year.


Humboldt martens are relatives of minks and otters that live in old-growth forests along the coast of Southern Oregon and Northern California.

Charlotte Eriksson