Science & Environment

Conservationists to sue for better protections of Oregon’s coastal martens

By Nathan Wilk (KLCC)
March 27, 2024 1 p.m.
Humboldt martens are relatives of minks and otters that live in old-growth forests along the coast of Southern Oregon and Northern California.

Humboldt martens are relatives of minks and otters that live in old-growth forests along the coast of Southern Oregon and Northern California.

Charlotte Eriksson / Oregon State University

A conservation group says it’s going to sue the U.S. Forest Service for failing to protect a rare and endangered species in Oregon.


There are fewer than 400 coastal martens in the wild, according to estimates from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The small, weasel-like animal was federally recognized as a threatened species in 2020.

Coastal martens have been found in isolated populations across Oregon and California, including around 70 estimated individuals in the Oregon Dunes between Florence and Coos Bay.

Now, the Center for Biological Diversity says the rising popularity of off-road vehicles in the Dunes is threatening that population, by tearing through habitats and creating disruptive noise.

Meanwhile, the center accuses federal officials in charge of the area of putting few protections in place to stop the devastation.


“Agencies like Forest Service are permitting huge, annual events like UTV Takeover that bring in thousands and thousands of off-road vehicles,” said Tala DiBenedetto, an attorney with the center. “And these events occur during times where martens can be sensitive, such as breeding, or when kits are still dependent on their mothers.”

DiBenedetto said coastal martens are vulnerable, with a slow reproductive cycle and a population in the Dunes that’s split by the Umpqua River.

Meanwhile, a study from OSU researchers in 2018 found that if humans caused two to three annual marten deaths, the sub-population south of the Umpqua could collapse.

“The agencies really need to take a hard look at what the impacts are,” said DiBenedetto, “and common sense things they can do, like put up fencing to protect marten habitat, and more signage or enforcement of noise limits that could disrupt the martens’ critical day-to-day behaviors.”

On Monday, the center sent the Forest Service a 60-day notice that it intends to sue the agency unless it complies with the Endangered Species Act. It also plans to take legal action against the Fish and Wildlife Service for its role as a consultant.

“With such a sensitive population, the martens just can’t afford to wait any longer for the agencies to act,” said DiBenedetto.

The potential lawsuit is one of multiple policy battles over the past decade surrounding the coastal martens. In 2019, Oregon officials banned trapping of the species west of I-5 following pressure from conservation groups.

In an email to KLCC, a U.S. Forest Service representative said the agency couldn’t comment on the center’s notice ahead of prospective litigation.