A federal court ruled Tuesday that wildlife managers must reconsider a decision to deny endangered species protections to the coastal marten.
The red-orange mink relative was once believed to be extinct — a victim of the fur trade. But small populations have been found in the coastal mountains of Southern Oregon and Northern California.
In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided the marten did not qualify for listing under the Endangered Species Act because the population was not small enough or isolated enough to be at risk of going extinct.
But the Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Protection Information Center argued in court the coastal marten population is perilously low.
“I think Fish and Wildlife Service just got it wrong. They just didn’t follow the science in this case,” said Noah Greenwald with the Center.
In California, there are estimated to be fewer than 100 martens left.
In the ruling, the U.S. District Court in San Francisco instructed wildlife managers to take another look at coastal marten populations to determine if federal protections are warranted. If there is no appeal, the service will redo an analysis referred to as a “12-month finding.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it is currently reviewing the ruling.
Timber industry groups intervened in the lawsuit to defend USFWS’s initial decision not to list.
American Forest Resource Council lawyer Lawson Fite said in an email statement the ruling does not require the agency to change its mind and recommend federal protections.
“The court found Oregon marten populations are not small or declining, only that the California population needs another look,” he said.