This week’s blog is a guest article written by Riley B., a Gobblers alumni. Riley loves animals and hopes to pursue a college degree in something that works with animals and the environment.
Pennsylvania has a long tradition of restoring wildlife and its habitat back to what it was before. During the colonization of America, many wildlife species died off due to overharvesting, the destruction of forests, and creation of farmlands. At this turn of the century, many native species were no longer found in the state.
Tom Keller, furbearer biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, recently spoke to a group of Penn State DuBois Wildlife Technology students about the recent restoration project being done in Pennsylvania. Keller has been tasked by the PGC to lead the program that he has titled, “Returning the Wild to the Wilderness, Loss, Legacy, and New Opportunity.“ According to Keller, by the 1900s, native species such as the wild turkey, white-tailed deer, elk, mountain lions, wolves, and a handful of others disappeared from the Pennsylvania forests. In 1895, the Pennsylvania legislature formed the Pennsylvania Game Commission to help turn around severe impacts that cause wildlife populations to decline, and to help bring back the native species we had lost.
Over the last century, species such as the wild turkey and white-tailed deer have successfully been reintroduced. They have thrived in their recovery with the help of the PGC. Bald eagles, otters, beavers, peregrines, and fishers are also among the other successful species brought back to Pennsylvania. By next year, bobwhite quail are expected to begin their comeback story, and hopefully make another recovery in the history of Pennsylvania.
Keller’s project, which has started recently with the information collecting and planning process, will discover if Pennsylvania provides the right and safe habitat for the American marten. But, is it really a good idea to bring another predator to Pennsylvania’s forests? Keller admitted he was skeptical at first about the project. Like most Pennsylvanians, he knew little about the marten other than it was an omnivore, a meat and plant eater, and that it was hunted for its valuable fur in the 1800s. Upon hearing about the process of introducing the fisher, a much larger cousin of the American marten, he changed his mind about this smaller critter. It could pose an excellent addition to the Pennsylvania ecosystem.
American marten are a federally designated Management Indicator Species. This means that the health and robustness of marten populations directly informs us about the health of the ecosystem and forests they live in. They also keep prey population numbers in check, which is important so the amount of rodents or other small mammals doesn’t get out of control and eat too much of the foliage. Everything has to be perfectly balanced and healthy. Without one species to determine the numbers, the entire forest will be unbalanced. Keller said the first group looked at what led to the marten’s demise. They concluded that it was a cause of deforestation and overharvesting. They then looked at its diet to see if the marten could fit into the forests. Mice, voles, weasels, and other small mammals were plentiful in the forests and perfect for American marten habitat, as well as foliage with berries.
Because of its smaller size – the marten weighs approximately two pounds and is the same size as a fox squirrel – it will not become a major competitor for food with the fishers, coyotes, and bobcats in its environment and the largest predator that could impact its population would be birds of prey. He said that after determining the appropriate habitat and whether it would have an adverse impact on the other animals in that habitat, it was time to check the public opinion among hunters and non-hunters. He said both groups have a 90-92% support rate for the reintroduction of the marten.
Keller is on his way to developing the 10-year plan for additional feasibility studies and the process that will potentially bring the American marten back to Pennsylvania. He believes that experts from all over the marten’s current range will be asked to take part in the process. He has already personally collaborated with experts from the northern United States and Canada. He said the initial plan would be to relocate 50-60 martens from Canada to specific locations in the northern forests of Pennsylvania to begin the reintroduction process.
When questioned about costs and how this project would be funded, Keller said it was hard to say what the program will cost the state, but he’s already discussed the cost of each marten that will be relocated from Canada and he believes Pennsylvania will pay just $60 per marten. He said the additional transportation costs and the costs of the studies should also be easily funded by game commission funds and state funds set aside for wildlife restoration through the natural gas drilling impact fees. He said the cost to restore the American marten will be much less than some of the other restoration projects that Pennsylvania has completed because they are not proposing any habitat restoration to accommodate these animals. He said relocation sites will be selected from land already owned either by the state or federal government, meaning state game lands, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources land and the Allegheny National Forest. Keller said forest health is one of the main reasons the game commission would like to reintroduce these animals. He said they believe the timing is right for such a reintroduction and the strong public support has made this project a priority.
To learn more about this project, visit the Pennsylvania Game Commission online at www.pgc.pa.gov or email the project at PAmarten@pa.gov.
The photo used in this blog was provided by Penn State DuBois.