Returning a lost species to the Wilds
By Thomas Keller, PA Game Commission
The American marten was once a common native species within all of PA’s forests. Lost through habitat destruction and unregulated harvest, the marten vanished out of the minds of Pennsylvanians. The Pennsylvania Game Commission, in association with a variety of partners, is considering their return.
With golden yellows, burnt oranges, and fire engine reds filling the canopy and covering the ground like a painter’s pallete, the masterpiece that is fall in the Pennsylvania Wilds is in full swing. Leaves as small as a fingernail or as large as a hand leave their high perch upon the crown and float lazily downward until they reach the forest floor. A venerable carpet of trees covers each ridgeline and roll down across the landscape into the valleys. Trees as far as an eye can see and beyond. But it wasn’t always so…
By the early 1900’s most mature trees within the Commonwealth had been felled and were holding up houses, factories, and mills, or perhaps fueling the fires of furnaces and hearths. Mountains were laid bare and barren with the stumps of a once mighty forest. What was necessary for the building of a young nation had left the scars of progress upon the back of the Commonwealth.
Not only had tree’s disappeared, so had many of the species that depended upon them. By the mid 1800’s elk and beaver were gone, and by the early 1900’s, the mountain lion, gray wolf, American marten, and fisher had been extirpated. White-tailed deer, black bear, and turkeys were on the very brink of being extinguished.
Pennsylvania has a redemption story however, and began to do one thing it does very well, grow trees. It was helped by hundreds of thousands of plantings by organizations like the CCC. At the same time, the state wildlife agency began to reintroduce species. As early as 1913, white-tailed deer were brought in from 7 different states and stocked throughout PA. Elk followed next and soon turkeys were reintroduced. Through the years, other species that were lost, or very near, were brought back such as the river otter, beaver, fisher, peregrine falcon, osprey, and bald eagle. Next year the bobwhite quail will be singing again in Franklin county because of a restoration project there.
There are several species however, that have not been returned. Two of those could pose difficulty, the mountain lion and the gray wolf. Both apex predators may or may not have the habitat or prey availability, but likely do not have the public support, which is an important factor in reintroduction and all wildlife management. One however, has been completely forgotten about for over 120 years. The American marten was once a common native species within all of PA’s forests, which would have been the majority of the state at one time. Lost through habitat destruction and unregulated harvest, the marten vanished out of the minds of Pennsylvanians generations separated from those that remembered them.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission, in association with a variety of partners, is considering their return. This began with the development of a Feasibility Assessment which looked at the history of the marten in the state, developing a habitat suitability model, assessing the potential impacts to other species, and providing justification for such an effort. Following this, the agency developed a Reintroduction and Management Plan. This long-term 10-year plan outlines the partnerships, translocation process, research & monitoring, information & education programs, and population management. Currently the agency is seeking public review and comment on the Plan.
According to the state constitution, wildlife in Pennsylvania belongs to all Pennsylvanians. This means you, and your voice matters and needs to be heard. Please check out the Pennsylvania American Marten Storymap to learn more and find out why it’s so important to bring this species back to the Commonwealth and to the PA Wilds. Email PAmarten@pa.gov to let the Game Commission know your stance on this plan and project. Public review and comment period ends November 15th, 2023.
Pennsylvanians have led the nation over the past 100 years in returning species back to its borders. Generations have brought back deer and turkey for the next generation, who then brought back river otter and bald eagles for their next generation. Now this generation, who has benefited so greatly has another opportunity to bring back a species for their children and grandchildren. Don’t let this pass you by, make your voice heard.
About the Author: Thomas Keller
Tom is currently the Furbearer Biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. He holds an M.S. in Conservation Biology from Green Mountain College, and a B.S. in Wildlife & Fisheries Management from Pennsylvania State University. Tom has worked in wildlife management for 17 years, the past 12 with the Pennsylvania Game Commission in a variety of roles from field biologist, to Game Bird Biologist, to Game Mammals Section Supervisor. Some of that work has taken him into the PA Wilds, and it has and will always hold a piece of his heart.
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