American martens, last seen in the early 1900s, could be reintroduced in PA

Brian Whipkey
Pennsylvania Outdoors Columnist

A small furbearer could be reintroduced to the forests of Pennsylvania in coming years.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is considering a reintroduction effort for the American marten.

An example of an American Marten. The Pennsylvania Game Commission is looking into the possibility of reintroducing the small fur-bearer in Pennsylvania.

The proposal, which would authorize the staff to proceed with the development of a reintroduction and management plan, is to be discussed and voted on at the agency’s July 9 meeting in Harrisburg.

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The commission’s staff reports the native animal was once commonly found in portions of Pennsylvania. "Probably they were extirpated by the 1920s and even the 1930s following the deforestation that occurred in the state,” Tom Keller, furbearer biologist for the agency, said in a telephone interview.

Martens are between the size of a mink and a fisher. They are a member of the weasel family and the adults weigh a little more than 2 pounds and can be about 2 feet long.

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If the agency’s board decides to move forward with the concept, Keller believes it could take five years before a marten is actually released in the wilds of Pennsylvania.

Keller said the historic data shows the marten’s core range at one time was in northcentral Pennsylvania in the area commonly referred to as the PA Wilds.

Today he believes there is good habitat to reintroduce them. He said they need forest canopy in large tracts of land. They also like areas with significant snowfall as they spend time under the snow hunting, staying warm and avoiding other predators. 

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He said the plan would eventually determine where they should release them.

Martens are opportunistic eaters of small animals like red squirrels, mice, red backed voles, birds, rabbits, fish, grasses and berries.

Keller said research from states that already have martens revealed there was little impact to grouse and turkey populations.

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“When I looked at the diet analysis, I did not find one turkey in any of the literature I could find," he said.

He said if a marten were to find a nest he assumed it would eat an egg here or there, but based on his research does not believe they are a concern for turkey.

He said they have a list of reasons why it’s important to consider bringing back a native species such as martens.

They were part of the diversity of the ecosystem. When you factor in the plant mass they eat, he said “they are an important seed disperser.” Martens have a home range of about 3.2 square miles.

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Another reason would be to expand the marten’s southern population range from New York and Canada.

Down the road, he feels they would also add to the value of tourism as people would travel to see them. If the reintroduction were successful, he said there could eventually be a trapping season.

Culturally, he said restoring the population would be important to the Indigenous people of the area as well.

“We feel it is an important species and it would make sense to bring it back,” he said.

Brian Whipkey is the outdoors columnist for USA TODAY Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at bwhipkey@gannett.com and sign up for our weekly Go Outdoors PA newsletter email on your website's homepage under your login name. Follow him on social media @whipkeyoutdoors.