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A tiny critter who could: Elusive Newfoundland Marten makes improbable comeback


Newfoundland’s unique and elusive pine marten has made an improbable comeback, growing out of its threatened designation after decades of conservation efforts.

There are now around 3,000 of the animals living in the wild, according to Brian Hearn, who co-chairs the Newfoundland Marten Recovery Team. They once numbered just 300, he said, and outside experts feared population recovery was impossible.

“When I started working on it, the best knowledge we had at the time from the best marten ecologists from mainland Canada said that (there was) very little we could do to recover them, and they would be extinct by 2020,” he said.

But, against the odds, numbers have seen a “huge recovery over the last 30-plus years,” he added. “A great success story for the province.”

Newfoundland and Labrador’s provincial government announced in late February that it had promoted the animal from threatened to vulnerable.

The Newfoundland marten has grown distinct from its cousins in the rest of North America, thanks to hundreds of years of island isolation.

It’s an obvious genetic outlier: It’s bigger than other martens, and roams in a much bigger area – up to 25-square kilometres.

It’s related to the weasel, but bigger – about the size of a house cat.

The animal can live up to 17 years in captivity, but it typically lives a much shorter life in the wild.

The marten was designated as an endangered species in 1996. Hearn said habitat loss, caused by forestry activities, and accidental trapping in rabbit snares were big causes of animal mortality.

New regulations that changed what types of wires trappers could use on their snares were introduced in 2008, and have contributed to recent growth in the species.

“A bunch of things happened, but the basis, in my opinion, is that we understood better in terms of what was really putting them at risk,” Hearn explained.

Over the course of ten years, Hearn and his team tracked 160 animals, using RFID tags and even riding in helicopters to track their movements and habitat use. Hearn calls it a highlight of his career.

“It was expensive, but we had tremendous support from forest industry, from provincial government, federal government. So it was certainly a collective effort to recover the species.”

Most of the population recovery has happened in the wild. There was a captive breeding program at the Salmonier Nature Park on Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula, but researchers abandoned the program after just a few years.

A Newfoundland marten is caught on a trail camera in western Newfoundland in early March. (Image courtesy Jimmy Short)

The famously elusive animal is already starting to be seen more frequently in Newfoundland.

Jimmy Short, a wildlife enthusiast on the province’s west coast, has captured a Newfoundland marten on his remote trail cameras twice in the past month.

“I'm 41 years old and I spend a lot of time in the woods, and it’s only the last few years I've been seeing them,” he said. “I’d never seen them before until two or three years.”

“On my trail camera, I’ve been at that for five years, and they’re only just starting to show up now,” he said. Top Stories

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