Oregon bans trapping of rare, cat-like Humboldt marten

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A cat-like creature in Oregon's coastal forests that's so rare it was once thought to be extinct can no longer be hunted, trapped or collected as roadkill under new rules that could go into effect as soon as next week, officials said Monday.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 4-3 on Friday to ban the trapping of a subspecies of the Humboldt marten in western Oregon, where there are fewer than 200 of its kind remaining.

The rules also ban all commercial and recreational trapping in Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and all traps and snares suspended in trees in the Siskiyou and Siuslaw national forests — the two forests where the coastal martens are found.

"If any species needs our help, it's the Humboldt marten, so it's great that the state has finally taken an important step to protect them," said George Sexton with KS Wild, an environmental group based in southern Oregon.

Two other subspecies of the Humboldt marten — in Oregon's Cascade Mountains and Blue Mountains — are not included in the ban and are not imperiled.

The meat-eating Humboldt marten is about the size of a kitten and is related to minks. It has sleek brown fur, pointy ears and a sharp nose and can be aggressive, despite its cuddly appearance.

The subspecies in question lives in southern Oregon and northern California and is so rare it was thought to be extinct until a remote camera snapped a picture in the redwoods in 1996.

California banned coastal marten trapping in 1946 and protected Humboldt martens as endangered in 2018. The animals are under consideration for listing as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act, with a ruling expected this fall.

Coastal Humboldt martens are threatened by cars that speed along Interstate 5, by logging and increasingly by wildfires and rodent poison that's used in southern Oregon marijuana grows.

There are about 2,000 so-called fur takers licensed by the state of Oregon who, until now, had the right to kill the martens for their soft pelts.

Only about a dozen of those individuals harvest martens, and those trappers prefer the subspecies in the mountains, where the cold make the martens' fur grow thicker, said Derek Broman, a carnivore biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

No one has legally trapped a Humboldt marten in western Oregon since 2014, he said.

The bans on trapping and hunting could hurt the state's effort to better understand the coastal marten's range and habits because fur takers are required to report to the state not only what they kill but also details on where it was found and what hunting methods worked.

"The knowledge base of those individuals is unmatched. They recognize tracks and sign like nobody else," Broman said of the trappers.

Conservation groups sued the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife when the agency did not act on a petition to ban trapping by November 2018.

The groups argued the delay had the potential to wipe out the remaining coastal population of Humboldt martens.

A subsequent settlement required Oregon to hold a rule-making hearing on the environmentalists' petition before the trapping season begins in Nov. 1.