The Newfoundland marten has undergone a big recovery in Gros Morne with the help of Parks Canada scientists.
The small carnivore, a unique subspecies of the American marten, is one of only 15 land mammals exclusive to the island of Newfoundland.
In 2001-02, a study was done on the marten’s distribution and population throughout the province. The animal was listed as endangered; with only a handful of marten found in Gros Morne.
Since then, scientists throughout the province, including those at Parks Canada, have taken measures to help the marten population grow.
In 2007, the Newfoundland Marten’s conservation status was upgraded from endangered to threatened.
Today, scientists are estimating there are around 25 to 35 marten in Gros Morne National Park in total with an increased distribution.
Shawn Gerrow is the Parks Canada ecologist leading the work on the marten in Gros Morne.
He told The Northern Pen two factors in the marten’s decline were deforestation and accidental snaring.
Scientists have addressed these issues in two ways.
Gerrow explains that many martens were being accidentally ensnared by traps set for snowshoe hares – an activity allowed in Gros Morne National Park – and died in the traps.
A study conducted by the province determined that certain types of wire, including 22-gauge wire, would retain snowshoe hare but let marten escape.
They have been educating trappers on the type of wire to use.
“We’ve implemented the same type of wire and we encourage snarers to use that wire,” he said. “When they come for their permit, we give them 22-gauge wire to encourage them to use it.”
Meanwhile, forest regeneration was difficult due to the large moose population.
According to Gerrow, large scale insect disturbances are the normal way for forests to restore themselves on the west coast.
After the old canopy is removed by these insects, young trees would be ready to grow back up.
But the problem in the park was that there were so many moose, they were eating all the new growth.
Therefore, they opened the park to moose hunting in 2011. This has allowed the forest more opportunity to regenerate.
In turn, this has increased and improved the habitat for marten; an animal that dwells in trees.
Gerrow says the Newfoundland marten plays an important role in the ecosystem.
“If we don’t have them, the ecosystem is impaired and we want to ensure the ecological integrity of the park is not impaired,” he said. “When we don’t have species like marten, there is an effect.”
Method to determine population
Through the ingenuity of a few provincial biologists, scientists throughout the province have a method to collect information about marten without trapping or harming the animal.
“We could trap the animal alive and try to collect a sample but, of course, any time you try and catch something, there’s a chance you could cause it to die, just by the stress of being trapped,” said Gerrow.
Scientists have started collecting the hair of the animals and, through that, they acquire genetic material and can determine each individual marten.
They’ve started with three pieces of board, positioned like a tent and screw these to trees. In the middle they place bait to lure the marten.
Along the walls of the tent, they’ve placed sticky traps used to catch mice.
When the marten enters the trap, its hair will get caught on the sticky trap but the marten will be strong enough to move through freely.
Scientists, like Gerrow, collect this hair and send it off to labs for testing. It provides the genotype of each individual marten as well as its sex.
“It gives us really good information on the population without having to hurt the marten,” he said.
Gerrow says they were able to determine the population and the distribution of marten in Gros Morne National Park using this method.