Trapped Between Pavement and the Pacific

HAKAI

A surprisingly dense and isolated population of Humboldt martens is challenging our assumptions about the species.

Skye looks official in her orange vest. She takes in her surroundings, gathering details that would escape most observers. With bright eyes and ramrod posture, she’s ready to work. But first she has to pee. She squats on her haunches, then trots off down a sandy track.

Suzie Marlow jogs after her. Marlow and Skye both work for Rogue Detection Teams, a company based in Washington State that enlists dogs to track wildlife for conservation research. Today, the pair will search for Humboldt martens.

Martens belong to the weasel family and look a bit like squirrels that have been stretched out and trained for battle: cute, but ferocious. They have long bodies and short, toothy snouts, with oversized ears that protrude above piercing black eyes. Their lush brown fur brightens to gold on their chests, and their powerful limbs end in bouquets of razor-thin claws.

Most Pacific martens live in the mountains, but Humboldt martens—a rare subspecies—make their home along the coast. They once ranged from Northern California to the Oregon-Washington border, filling the ancient, towering forests that fringed the Pacific shore. Now, they’ve all but disappeared, and recently gained formal protection under the US Endangered Species Act.

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The elusive Humboldt marten faces a host of threats, from logging to cars to wildfires. (Credit: Mark Linnell/USDA Forest Service)