The Newfoundland Marten
The Newfoundland Marten is a threatened species. Primary reasons for its decline include the destruction of crucial forest habitat and trapping. Recovery measures undertaken by Parks Canada and its partners, however, have halted the drop in numbers and the marten population is beginning to re-establish in Terra Nova National Park and surrounding area.
The Newfoundland Marten is a sub-species of the American Marten, a tree-climbing member of the weasel family.
Martens are long and slender animals about the size of a small house cat. They have dark brown fur, a bushy tail, large feet with sharp claws, and a small head with large round ears, dark brown eyes, and a pointed muzzle.
Because marten on the island of Newfoundland have been isolated from other martens since the last age ice age (about 10,000 years ago), they have developed unique genetic and physical characteristics.
Newfoundland Marten are a forest dependent species and occur in a variety of forest habitats including old, closed-canopyied stands, sites defoliated by forest insects that have more open canopies and plenty of dead, standing trees, and younger forest stands. In the springtime, female martens seek out a den to give birth to 2-3 kits. Dens provide protection from predators and the elements. They are often located in hollow trees, underground cavities, and rock piles.
The complex structure of forests provides woody debris and fallen trees that support prey like voles, red squirrels and snowshoe hares. In the winter, martens hunt small mammals along natural corridors that form under the snow around the fallen trees and tree stumps.
Martens have a keen sense of smell. They are also very curious. These qualities make them particularly easy to trap.
The Newfoundland Marten once lived in forested areas throughout Newfoundland, including Terra Nova National Park of Canada. But large-scale timber harvesting removed much of their habitat and excessive trapping significantly reduced their numbers.
In the early 1980s, the Newfoundland Marten population was estimated at 630 to 875 individuals. Based on those numbers, COSEWIC designated the Newfoundland Marten as a threatened species.
But by 1995, the population had declined to only 300 marten-a number that increases their vulnerability to threats like habitat loss, accidental deaths in traps and snares, and disease. In areas where only a few martens exist, an outbreak of disease, or further habitat, could wipe out all the remaining marten living in that area.
In response to this further decline, COSEWIC listed the Newfoundland Marten in the more serious “endangered” category.
Because marten are a forest dependent species, removal of large expanses of this habitat through timber harvesting poses a threat to population recovery. We must all take responsibility to ensure that our forests are used sustainably so that species like the Newfoundland Marten can continue to exist.
Some residents of Newfoundland enjoy hunting and trapping animals like fox, mink and snowshoe hares. Unfortunately, martens are often unintentionally caught in snares and traps set for these other furbearers. This has prompted wildlife managers to establish special management areas where specific traps and snares known to reduce the occurrence of accidental captures must be used.
The Newfoundland marten is one of only 14 native mammals in Newfoundland and is very important to the biodiversity of this island. It is also an important part of the natural and cultural heritage of Newfoundland. Like all animals, the marten has a right to exist and we have a responsibility to ensure our actions do not threaten its survival. Finally, by taking action to protect the marten and its habitat, we are, in turn, helping to conserve other species and our natural environment.
Protected areas like Terra Nova National Park offer critical habitat where logging and trapping are prohibited. That makes Parks Canada, a member of the Newfoundland Marten Recovery Team, a key player in restoring Newfoundland Marten populations.
Two important recovery activities are research and monitoring. These activities help us learn more about how the Newfoundland Marten lives, and what it needs to survive.
Terra Nova National Park has been involved with recovery efforts since the 1980s. In 1996, park staff partnered with World Wildlife Fund Canada and Newfoundland’s Inland Fish and Wildlife Division to intensify population recovery in eastern Newfoundland.
Researchers have live-trapped martens in the park, outfitted them with radio-collars, and followed their movements to find out the following information:
- the size of their home ranges;
- the types of forest they used;
- their feeding habits; and
- their dispersal patterns.
The information gathered through this recovery program will continue to enhance marten education programs and stewardship initiatives within and beyond park boundaries.
Terra Nova National Park’s ongoing research and monitoring activities show that Newfoundland Martens are reproducing successfully within the park. It is estimated that between 30 and 35 animals currently live in Terra Nova National Park and surrounding lands. Parks Canada and the Newfoundland Marten Recovery Team aim to establish a population of at least 50 martens in the Terra Nova National Park area by the year 2010.
If you live in or visit an area where the Newfoundland Marten lives:
- Use forest resources responsibly as these trees are important habitat for the marten and other wildlife. Reduce, reuse, and recycle paper products.
- Teach others about the marten and the threats to its survival.
- If you snare snowshoe hare in areas where marten live, use a modified snare or a lower gauge snare wire (22 gauge brass or 6 strand picture cord) to ensure marten accidentally trapped in snares can escape. Check your snares regularly and remove them at the end of the season.