Martens are a larger relative of the weasel with a cute face and bushy tail. They have roamed the coastal mountain regions including the Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park for centuries, but recent sightings have drastically declined.
With factors like reduced habitat affecting marten mortality, Betsy Howell, a U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist, hoped surveys would shed light on what was happening with Pacific martens on the Forest.
To find the muscle necessary for the study, Howell teamed up with Adventure Scientists—a non-profit organization that recruits volunteers to work with scientists to collect data from remote areas.
“They explained their idea of gathering people with the skill level to explore the backcountry and pairing them with those who needed data collected, but didn’t have the personnel,” she said. “This sounded like a great opportunity.”
In the winters of 2013 and 2014, Howell and the Adventure Scientist volunteers set up 32 cameras around the forest to monitor martens.
Angela Bohlke, an accomplished mountaineer, volunteered for both field seasons. Her first day on the job she was greeted by many enthusiastic citizen scientists and was introduced to gusto, a foul-smelling lure used to attract martens.
Bohlke and other volunteers fixed cameras near dead trees and downed logs where martens were likely to roam. They set cameras a kilometer apart, baited them with chicken and gusto, and checked them every two weeks.
After months of watching the footage, the team saw many types of wildlife, but no martens. This, along with survey data, was enough evidence to add the coastal Pacific marten to the NatureServe list of critically imperiled species.
“For a long time the [coastal] marten’s designation was ‘apparently secure’—that’s not what we were seeing here,” Howell said. Having the coastal populations now listed as imperiled helps with funding opportunities because you just can’t get money to research something when nobody thinks it’s a problem.”
For the volunteers, helping to bring a better scientific understanding of coastal martens was fulfilling on its own. After 12 trips to the mountains, Bohlke spent time reflecting on our relationship with nature.
“I admired the other volunteers and found our shared interest in wanting to do something other than just ‘take’ from the outdoors inspiring,” she wrote. “In the end, we didn’t find a marten, but we all found a lot more.”
Watch the AS video about volunteers’ experience in the Olympic National Forest.