Coastal pine marten proposed for listing as a threatened species

The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed listing the coastal (Humboldt) marten, found in older forests in California and Oregon, as a threatened species.

“Martens are vulnerable to predation and increased competition in habitats that have been subject to either high–moderate severity fires or intensive logging in the last 40 years because both of these events remove the structural characteristics of the landscape that provide escape cover and are important to marten viability (canopy cover, shrub cover, etc.). These older forests have declined substantially from historical amounts…”

As a threatened species, the prohibitions in ESA against incidental take (§9) would not apply, but the FWS usually applies them using a special §4(d) regulation, which it is doing here. As is also common, they carve out exceptions to the prohibitions where take of the marten would be allowed; two of which would be relevant to national forest management:

(1) Forestry management activities for the purposes of reducing the risk or severity of wildfire, such as fuels reduction projects, fire breaks, and wildfire firefighting activities.

(3) Forestry management activities consistent with the conservation needs of the coastal marten. These include activities consistent with formal approved conservation plans or strategies, such as Federal or State plans and documents that include coastal marten conservation prescriptions or compliance, and for which the Service has determined that meeting such plans or strategies, or portions thereof, would be consistent with this proposed rule.

Here is the rationale:

“Although these management activities may result in some minimal level of harm or temporary disturbance to the coastal marten, overall, these activities benefit the subspecies by contributing to conservation and recovery. With adherence to the limitations described in the preceding paragraphs, these activities will have a net beneficial effect on the species by encouraging active forest management that creates and maintains the complex tree and shrub conditions needed to support the persistence of marten populations, which is essential to the species’ long-term viability and conservation.”

What this means is that forestry management activities that are not for the purpose of limiting fire or not consistent with the species’ needs would violate ESA if they harm any martens (unless they obtain an incidental take permit).

Regarding (1), I would ask whether all it takes to comply is for a project to say that it is for this purpose, or considering some of the discussions on this blog, does there have to be scientific support for the idea that a particular practice would actually have the intended effect.

Regarding (3), there is obviously a role for forest plans to include coastal marten conservation prescriptions. Presumably, plan components to create and maintain complex tree and shrub conditions for martens would be consistent with the NFMA requirement to provide ecological integrity and conditions needed for viability of at-risk species. What I haven’t seen before is a process by which the FWS reviews a forest plan for consistency with §4(d) criteria for a threatened species.

There could be future challenges to projects for violation of §9 because they do not meet these criteria.  The Center for Biological Diversity believes that “industrial logging” could meet these criteria and continue to occur in marten habitat.  At least (1) seems like it could be an exception that swallows the rule.  If it were dropped for fuel reduction projects, they could still occur if consistent with marten conservation under (3).

4 thoughts on “Coastal pine marten proposed for listing as a threatened species”

  1. The notion that fuel reduction “activities benefit the subspecies by contributing to conservation and recovery.” Is not supported by science or Bayesian statistics. When logging intended to benefit habitat will also reduce the quality of habitat, there must be some evaluation of ecological costs and benefits — e.g., the probability that logging will degrade habitat vs. the probability that fuel reduction treatments will interact favorably with fire and thus benefit habitat. This is an example of the “base rate fallacy” or “neglecting priors” from Bayesian statistics. The probability of a forest stand NOT burning are far greater than the probability of a forest stand burning. Attempts to address a problem that is unlikely to occur, such as by thinning a forest that is unlikely to burn, runs a high risk that unintended negatives effects will overwhelm beneficial effects. This issue has been discussed on this blog plenty of times before in the context of logging to save spotted owl habitat from fire (which the science shows is not supported). e.g., Dennis C. Odion, Chad T. Hanson, Dominick. A. DellaSala, William L. Baker, and Monica L. Bond. 2014. Effects of Fire and Commercial Thinning on Future Habitat of the Northern Spotted Owl. The Open Ecology Journal, 2014, 7, 37-51 37.

    There is similar evidence for meso-predators like marten:

    Aubry et al 2013. Meta-Analyses of Habitat Selection by Fishers at Resting Sites in the Pacific Coastal Region. The Journal of Wildlife Management 77(5):965–974; 2013; DOI: 10.1002/jwmg.563.

    Moriarty, K. M., Epps, C. W. and Zielinski, W. J. (2016), Forest thinning changes movement patterns and habitat use by Pacific marten. The Journal of Wildlife Management. doi: 10.1002/jwmg.1060. (Abstract: “martens avoided stands with simplified structure, and the altered patterns of movement we observed in those stands suggested that such treatments may negatively affect the ability of martens to forage without increased risk of predation. Fuel treatments that simplify stand structure negatively affected marten movements and habitat connectivity. Given these risks, and because treating fuels is less justified in high elevation forests, the risks can be minimized by applying treatments below the elevations where martens typically occur.”)

    Katie M. Moriarty 2014. Ph.D. Dissertation. Habitat Use and Movement Behavior of Pacific Marten (Martes caurina) in Response to Forest Management Practices in Lassen National Forest, California. November 21, 2014.

    Kirkland, J. 2016. Science Findings #192. Striving for Balance: Maintaining Marten Habitat While Reducing Fuels. Dec 2016. (“[R]esearchers fitted martens with GPS collars and tracked their behavior to learn how the animals responded in forest stands that differed in structural complexity-variability in tree size, depth and overlap of crowns, and distance and uniformity of spacing among trees. The martens traveled several miles a day in search of food, but they avoided open areas and thinned stands (forest areas where small-diameter trees and understory have been removed), most likely because they were more vulnerable to predators in those spaces. They thrived in forests with complex canopies and connected stands, which allowed them to move more freely in search of food with less risk of predation.”)

    • Of course, thinned stands are not static, and soon would turn back into prime habitat. The ‘Do No Harm’ folks don’t address realities staring them in the face. I’ll call such studies “small sample size or duration”. Such a designation severely limits such a study’s relevance.

    • With California wildfires burning HUGE chunks of lands (now measured by square miles, instead of just in acres), the likelihood of a particular piece of land being burned is MUCH higher than it used to be. Additionally, the intensities of such fires are much higher than they used to be, too. Hoping that rare habitats don’t burn to a crisp is not a rational idea. Such ideas merely ‘preserve’ the controversy, instead of mitigating it.

  2. We should all know by now that according to 2nd law, what humans do is bad, what nature does is good.
    Even when continuous fires reduce our old growth forests to shrubs.
    I use to think environmental laws were about conserving the forests and the creatures that live there.
    After all these years it seems the environmental laws are used to just stop timber harvesting and other human activities in our forests.


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