Updated: Pennsylvania Game Commission tables reintroduction of American marten for second time – Outdoor News
Harrisburg — For the second time in less than two years, the Pennsylvania Game Commission board delayed action on the plan to reintroduce American marten.
During the Jan. 27 quarterly meeting, the board approved a motion to table the plan after several commissioners said they needed more time to gauge hunter sentiment and collect more information.
The marten plan was drafted in 2022 and since then the board has voted to table moving forward with the measure on two occasions. At the July 8 meeting last year, the board voted to table the public review portion of the reintroduction plan to allow time for the completion of a public survey.
At the Jan. 27 meeting, although more than two dozen speakers during the public comment period of the meeting spoke in favor of reintroduction — and no one voiced opposition — commissioners said they again needed more time before moving forward.
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Several commissioners raised concerns about the results of a recent survey of hunters. The survey generated 9,000 responses and found that 37% supported marten reintroduction, 32% opposed it and 31% were neutral.
The three-way split was highly unusual, according to several commissioners.
Board President Kristen Schnepp-Giger said the fact that 31% of hunters responded as being neutral on marten reintroduction warranted more consideration.
“It makes us as commissioners go out and talk to people in our districts to understand where they’re coming from,” she said, adding the reintroduction plan will be taken up again in the future.
During staff reports that were given to the board on Jan. 26, Steve Smith, director of the Bureau of Information and Education, addressed the survey that asked hunters about three topics: antler restrictions, Sunday hunting and marten reintroduction. He said 20,000 hunters received a survey, and 9,000 responded.
In regard to the nearly even three-way split about marten reintroduction (37% support, 32% oppose and 31% neutral), Smith said the results were unique.
“I can’t recall an instance where we had that large a percentage that was neutral on an issue. That’s just not typically the case with Pennsylvania hunters,” he said. “We tend to be a pretty opinionated group.”
Tom Keller, the agency’s furbearer biologist, told the board a 60-day public comment period on the plan resulted in 998 comments received, and 790 were in support of reintroduction. Restoration and biodiversity were the top reasons cited for support of marten reintroduction, while predation was the leading factor for opposition, he said.
“We’ve done four public opinion surveys on this project alone, and we saw 92% of the general public supports reintroduction of the marten,” Keller said.
The agency’s “American Marten Reintroduction and Management Plan for Pennsylvania” is a long-term, 10-year strategy to translocate the species back to the state, then conduct comprehensive monitoring to evaluate that reintroduction.
Martens were once commonly found in portions of Pennsylvania, but they disappeared from the commonwealth in the early 1900s due to deforestation and unregulated harvest.
A feasibility assessment by the Game Commission found that martens would have sufficient habitat within Pennsylvania, primarily in the northern region, and pose little to no risk to other species if reintroduced.
Commissioner Robert Schwalm of Lehigh County, who was one of six to vote in favor of tabling the plan, questioned if habitat and climate changes would jeopardize any attempt to re-establish marten in the state.
“The climate in Pennsylvania is not what it was 100 years ago,” he said, adding that snow cover, which is critical for marten survival, is often lacking.
“I’m not convinced our forests are suitable enough.”
Among those voicing support for the plan during the public comment portion of the meeting were members of the Pennsylvania Trappers Association and representatives from hiking and conservation organizations.
Michelle Goodman, director of animal care with the Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown, spoke in favor of marten reintroduction.
“This project not only benefits the extirpated American marten and its ecosystem, but also demonstrates to our guests the positive role that humans can play in wildlife conservation,” she said.