PA’s American marten and bobwhite quail projects move forward
If you weren’t alive in the 1930s, chances are you never saw a wild American marten in Pennsylvania.
That could change.
Pennsylvania Gaming Council commissioners on Saturday gave approval to the leadership of the Gaming Commission’s Office of Wildlife Management to develop a plan to reintroduce and manage the small, native furry animal into the Pennsylvania wilderness. .
Martens are small animals weighing around 2 pounds to 3 pounds. They are smaller than a fisherman, but not much bigger than a gray squirrel. They are similar in size to a mink. About a century ago they were found in north-central Pennsylvania. However, heavy deforestation and a lack of regulation have led to their disappearance from the landscape.
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Tom Keller, a furbearer biologist for the agency, said in a phone interview that he believed forest habitat requirements for martens were available again. The feasibility study concluded that, based on a literature review, dietary studies, expert assessments, and previous out-of-state reintroduction efforts, marten’s impact on other species is minimal, while the effects of other predators on marten are also minimal. Research in states that already have martens found there was little effect on grouse and turkey populations. “When I looked at the diet analysis, I couldn’t find any turkeys in the literature that I could find,” he said.
Most of their diet consists of small mammals such as voles, mice, and shrews, as well as insects and plants.
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With a diet like that, it’s easy to see where they fit into the ecosystem. In addition to limiting the rodent population, their diet includes berries which can help distribute seeds throughout their home range.
This is a positive step in the right direction to return this native animal to parts of the state where it can be managed for the future.
The Office of Wildlife Management will identify optimal release sites and potential source populations, and provide details on translocation methodology, research and monitoring, cooperative partnerships, and long-term management. Once completed, the plan will be made available to the public for review and comment before being presented to the Board of Directors for review and final approval.
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It is not a simple process; Keller said it could take up to five years before the first marten is released into the wild.
A second win for wildlife at Saturday’s meeting involves bobwhite quail.
Commissioners have given final approval to a measure creating a bobwhite quail salvage area surrounding the Letterkenny Army Depot in Greene Township, Franklin County.
The PGC reports that the recovery area’s goal is to help quail — a native species thought to be extinct from Pennsylvania since perhaps the 1990s — and a host of other grassland-dependent species, some of which are also in great difficulty.
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The agency found that field sparrows, eastern towhees, yellow-breasted cats, eastern meadowlarks, cottontail rabbits, American woodcock and various pollinators all use portions of the same type of ancient habitat as the quail. Many of these songbird species are, at least, “most conservation needed species” here, while others are listed as threatened or endangered at the state level.
The recovery area boundary was developed using the main roads surrounding the Letterkenny Army Depot. Delineating the recovery area should provide two benefits.
First, it will protect wild quail imported from other states and released on Letterkenny after harvest. This reintroduction of wild birds is expected to begin in the spring of 2024 and continue for three to four years.
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Second, it will minimize the potential negative genetic effects of interbreeding with captive-bred quail originating from outside the demarcated area. The wild bobwhite quail recovery area will cover 177.65 square miles.
Part of the Game Commission’s mission is to protect and preserve animal and bird populations. With humans responsible for depleting martens and other species, it makes sense for the agency to see what can be done to restore the native ecosystem. For example, white-tailed deer numbers are high today only because of agency efforts to reintroduce deer in the early 1900s.
Brian Whipkey is the outdoor columnist for USA TODAY Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and sign up for our weekly Go Outdoors PA newsletter via email on your website homepage under your login name. Follow him on social media @whipkeyoutdoors.