Continuing with efforts started half a decade ago to protect the small carnivore known as the coastal marten, two environmental groups notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of their intent to sue after the service denied a petition to federally protect the species earlier this year.
Martens are cat-sized creatures related to minks and otters that reside in old-growth forests and dense coastal shrubs in Northern California and southern and central coastal Oregon. Until 1995, they were thought to be extinct.
In 2010 the Environmental Protection Information Center joined the Center for Biological Diversity in filing a petition to federally list the marten under the Endangered Species Act. In April of this year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined the species was not eligible for protection under the act.
“It just never seemed like the Fish and Wildlife Service gave it true consideration,” Tom Wheeler, the program and legal coordinator at EPIC, said.
EPIC and the Center for Biological Diversity sent the notice of intent to sue to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday. The notice gives the service 60 days to reconsider its decision to reject the marten for listing, or the environmental groups intend to file suit.
Wheeler said that if the groups do move forward with the suit, the ideal outcome would be for a judge to order a reconsideration of the listing of the coastal marten.
“Their conclusion was based on unsound science,” Wheeler said.
According to the most recent studies, Wheeler said fewer than 100 coastal martens live in California, and that number is likely closer to 40. In Oregon the number of remaining martens is unknown and is presumed to be small, though it is likely more than what is left in California.
“The Endangered Species Act has a policy of institutionalized caution that cares about preserving biodiversity in the country,” Wheeler said. “But instead of that, the Fish and Wildlife Service ran every inference against the marten.”
Matt Baun, public affairs officer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said due to pending litigation he could not comment on the service’s decision not to list the marten.
“We got the lawsuit and we’re reviewing it. That’s all I can say at this time,” Baun said.
He referred all question to a press release sent out by the service in April. The release stated that the service evaluated stressors that could be impacting the coastal martens — including wildfire, climate change, timber harvest, trapping, disease, predation, roadway accidents and exposure to toxins.
It found that the stressors did not rise to a level of threat that warranted listing the species under the Endangered Species Act, according to the release.
“Our review of the best available scientific and commercial information indicates that the coastal marten is not in danger of extinction nor likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future, throughout all or a significant portion of its range,” stated the proposed rule released by the service on April 7.
Greg Loarie, an Earthjustice attorney representing the environmental groups, said the science and the service’s decision do not match up.
“It boils down really to, the science that the agency had in its possession, and the scientific synthesis its own staff did, all led to the conclusion that the species warrants protect under the Endangered Species Act,” he said.
Loarie said the lawsuit alleges that the agency’s decision not to protect the marten under the act was illegal. He said the lawsuit cannot make the service to protect the marten, but can require them to take another look at the science and reconsider their decision.
As the environmental groups work to fight the decision to not list the coastal marten under the federal Endangered Species Act, they are also working to get the marten listed under the California Endangered Species Act.
Wheeler said a petition was accepted for consideration at the August California Fish and Game Commission meeting, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will begin a cursory first-round review of the petition and report back in December.
“It’s a low bar to get over at the Fish and Game Commission, and I’m very confident that we’re going to get past that,” Wheeler said.