Wildlife Watch: American marten

Published: Mar. 30, 2021 at 4:35 PM EDT
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ROXBURY, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont Fish and Wildlife continues its work to bring back the American Marten population in Vermont, an endangered species in the state.

A member of the weasel family, marten are usually a reddish color and can be identified with their orange throat patch and eyebrows that stick up. “They are native to this state, but around the 1800s, when we lost many of our iconic wildlife species, marten disappeared as well. And that’s because we cleared the forest, and we went from about 95% forest to about 35% forest and marten are a species of late or older forests -- they like old forests. And then we had unregulated harvest of these animals -- all animals. There were no seasons, no bag limits at that point, so we lost most of the species that people recognize in Vermont today,” said Kim Royer, a biologist with Vermont Fish and Wildlife.

In the 1980s, Royer says the state received a grant and that she was a part of the group that worked to reintroduce marten back to Vermont. “We partnered with Maine fish and wildlife and New York fish and wildlife and the Forest Service and we hired trappers in both of those states to live trap marten. And then they would hold them and feed them and would make swings up to Maine and down to New York, pick them up and release them to the southern Greens,” Royer said.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: Several decades later, what happened to those marten that were brought back in the 80s?

Kim Royer: We actually thought that reintroduction had failed. We brought these animals in, we actually radio-collared some, tracked them for a while. Some stuck around, some disappeared.

Biologists set up trail cameras, but Royer says they were catching a different animal. “We thought that fisher were probably out-competing the marten. And like I said, marten need deep fluffy snow to outcompete fisher because they hunt under the snow, they are subnivean hunters,” she said.

But just a few years ago, there were signs of hope with new sightings. “We actually started to get reports from trappers in the southern Greens that they we’re seeing tracks and seeing sign of marten, and at first we were a little suspicious because they can look like mink tracks or small fisher tracks, but we started getting photos from trappers,” Royer said.

Royer and other biologists set up a camera study to determine the distribution and reproduction and she says the results have been promising. “We have a very nice core population in the southern Green Mountain National Forest that looks to be reproducing and we are hoping they will hit some threshold where they will start dispersing and moving into other habitats,” Royer said.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: That’s a big accomplishment.

Kim Royer: It’s a legacy which I’m really excited about and proud of... When you work for fish and wildlife, you sort of think that’s what your supposed to be doing for work, and a lot of what we do is collecting data and working on computers. And to actually work with an animal and release them into the wild and have it be a success is really wonderful.

The exact population of marten in Vermont is uncertain but Royer says they will continue to monitor the native species which found their way back home.

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