The Humboldt marten was once a denizen of vast swaths of old growth forests in Northern California and Southern Oregon. But rampant logging has shrunken its habitat, pushing the objectively adorable little predator into small isolated populations and amplifying other threats, like cannabis growth and wildfires.
On Tuesday, conservation groups petitioned Oregon for both state and federal protections for the furry mammals under the Endangered Species Act in the hopes that they’ll have a fighting chance. The roughly 400-strong subspecies has already been flirting with extinction for quite some time.
“Small isolated populations are at really high risks of becoming extinct,” Tiarra Curry, senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, which submitted the petition, told Earther. “To save them, we have to create habitat corridors of appropriate forest habitats to reconnect the population.”
The picture is looking pretty dismal: Only four remote populations of the kitten-sized creature remain—two in the state of California and two in Oregon—each pocket with fewer than 100 animals. Currently, neither state has regulations in place to protect it save a trapping ban in California.
Today’s remaining Humboldt martens face numerous threats. The cannabis industry has already been known to contribute to deforestation and habitat loss in California. But as the Guardian noted in a recent article, illegal marijuana cultivation also poses a threat to the small weasel-like animals, destroying their homes and introducing rodenticides into forest food webs.
Now that the marten is trapped in small patches of habitat, populations are increasingly at risk from wildfires, too. According to Curry, this wouldn’t have been a problem historically. But a a 2017 wildfire tore down dense forests separating the northernmost population in California from the southernmost population in Oregon.
Other threats abound in Oregon. The state’s highly localized populations are susceptible to any environmental or man-made threat, including cars speeding down the highway that runs by the coastal dunes where they live. “Anything that affects this little strip of habitat could wipe them out,” Curry said.
Incredibly, the Guardian reports it is still legal to trap Humboldt martens in Oregon where the animal’s glossy mink-like pelt sells for about $20 each.
This is not the first time conservation groups have pushed for the marten to be granted threatened species protections in Oregon state. A 2010 petition to list the subspecies was denied by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, leading to a lawsuit against the agency in 2015 and an overturning of the decision.
While it’s unclear what Oregon will decide this time around, in California, the Humboldt marten’s prospects are looking a bit brighter this week. According to the Guardian, the state has already announced its intention to list the animal as an endangered species. We’re reached out to the California Fish and Game Department for confirmation and will update if we hear back.
[h/t the Guardian]