Lawsuit Seeks Endangered Species Protection For Humboldt Marten

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Once thought extinct, we have a second chance to save the threatened Humboldt marten from disappearing for good. The Trump administration's weakened Endangered Species Act makes doing so difficult.

The Trump administration does not put a value on wildlife so the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service missed the deadline to finalize protection for the Humboldt marten, a species of weasel who dwell in forests in Northern California and southern Oregon. Less than 400 of them remain.

Two conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for not finalizing Endangered Species Act protections for the Humboldt marten. 

In 2010, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) petitioned to have the Humboldt marten listed as a federally protected species, but in 2015 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to list it. 

The two groups filed a lawsuit challenging the decision and a federal judge ordered the agency to reevaluate the status of the Humboldt marten. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing it as a threatened species in 2018 but has not finalized the rule yet. The deadline to finalize the listing occurred in October 2019.

The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Oakland, California, wants the Fish and Wildlife Service to “issue a timely final determination on the proposed listing of the coastal distinct population segment of the Humboldt marten as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.”

The Humboldt marten is in danger of extinction

The Humboldt marten was once a common species from California’s Sonoma County to the Columbia River in Oregon. Logging of mature forests and trapping in its forest habitat decimated the species. Wildfires and rodent poison used in marijuana cultivation also threaten the species. Although California banned trapping of Humboldt martens in the 1940s, Oregon did not do so until 2019 after conservation groups filed a lawsuit. The species have been wiped out of 95 percent of their historic range. The Humboldt marten was once so rare that it was believed they were extinct until being rediscovered in 1996.

Humboldt martens need specialized habitats that include large diameter live trees, snags, and logs. It can take centuries for all of that to develop. The habitat they need to survive is expected to regenerate over the next couple of decades. However, without a good management strategy to maintain the habitat elements they need, it is unlikely they will survive. Wildfires could greatly alter their habitat.

Listing the Humbolt marten as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and designating the habitat they need to survive as critical is necessary in order to prevent extinction. The forest practices that damage their habitat also need to be banned.

The Trump administration changed the Endangered Species Act

In 2019, the Trump administration released final regulations to the Endangered Species Act. The changes include making it harder to extend protections to threatened species, delaying action until a species’ population is potentially impossible to save. Those actions make it harder to protect polar bears, coral reefs, and other species affected by climate change effects.

The changes to the Endangered Species Act occur as a number of species are under the threat of extinction. A 2019 UN report found that since 1900 most major land-based habitats have decreased by at least 20 percent. Three-quarters of the land-based environment and 66 percent of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. 

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