Pennsylvania farmers concerned about plan to reintroduce marten

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(Photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Game Commission)

White-tailed deer, bald eagles, wild turkeys, elk and beaver. These are all animals that have been successfully reintroduced in Pennsylvania. The American marten could be the next to join that list. 

Most Pennsylvanians approved of the plan to reintroduce the marten to the state’s woodlands, according to a public opinion poll conducted by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

“We found 92% of Pennsylvanian’s support this project,” said Thomas Keller, furbearer biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. “And 92% of hunters support this as well.”

There are, however, people in the minority, including some farmers who are concerned about introducing a predator could exacerbate an already difficult situation with keeping poultry safe. 

“I don’t think it’s in agriculture’s best interest to bring another member of the weasel family to the diminished habitat,” said Mike Little, a farmer in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and board member with the Westmoreland County Farm Bureau. “This isn’t the big woods of Pennsylvania anymore.”

All about marten

The American marten, also known as the pine marten, is one of the last on a list of animals native to Pennsylvania that could be successfully reintroduced, Keller said. It’s been more than 120 years since the marten population here was lost due to deforestation and unregulated harvest. 

“Around the early 1900s, we had decimated all of our forests and most of our forest species went with it,” Keller said. “We’ve been slowly working together to get many of these species back. The marten is probably one of the last ones on the list that we have a realistic opportunity to do that with.”

Martens are a member of the weasel family. They’re slightly larger than true weasels, at about 20-26 inches long from nose to tail tip. Adults weigh between 1 and 3 pounds. Martens vary from light brown to black in color, with a yellow bib covering the throat and stretching down the chest. 

Bringing the marten back is about more than just returning an animal that was once here. It would improve biodiversity. Martens primarily eat small mammals, birds and insects, but about 21% of their diet comes from berries and other plants, according to the PGC’s feasibility study. Keller said the martens are important for seed dispersal in forests. Martens have a home range of up to 3.5 square miles.

There’s the potential for economic impact as well. Having the marten could bring in not just trappers and hunters to the state, but also wildlife viewers and photographers, Keller said. 

Reintroducing the marten is part of the PGC’s 2020-23 strategic plan. The commission presented a feasibility assessment for reintroducing the American marten to the board last summer. The board gave the go-ahead for staff to take the next step and prepare a relocation and management plan for the project. Keller said they’ll be presenting that plan to the board in July. If approved, then they’ll move the plan out for public review and comment. 

The earliest martens would be reintroduced to the forests of Pennsylvania would be early 2024, Keller said. 

Farmer concerns

Little raises pastured poultry, in addition to grassfed beef and pastured pigs. He finishes about 1,000 meat birds each year for his customers. 

“I already have a problem with weasels, mink, fishers, on top of coyotes, foxes and eagles,” he said. 

Little attended an information meeting at a local sportsman’s club in January where the game commission was speaking about the marten reintroduction proposal. After Little introduced the idea, the Westmoreland County Farm Bureau board voted unanimously in January to oppose the marten reintroduction plan. 

He said there are areas of the state where it may make sense to add the marten back, but overall he sees the argument for reintroduction as flimsy. 

Keller said the concern about poultry predation is valid. It could happen, but it’s not likely for a couple of reasons, he said. Martens don’t tend to exist in the same areas that farms or people do. If martens were to be reintroduced to Pennsylvania, it would be in the northwestern to north-central part of the state often called the Pennsylvania Wilds. The region is dominated by forested public land. 

“When we think about martens, we think about a deep forest species. They are very specific to a healthy forest,” he said. “If we were going to move forward with marten reintroduction, it would be about as far away from human populations as we can get.”

Keller also said that livestock should be protected as long as farmers are defending their stock against other predators.

“As long as producers and backyard chicken owners are protecting their flocks from weasels and mink, they’re going to be protected from marten.”

The issue remains that raising poultry on pasture is inherently risky. Structures for the pastured poultry operations are purposefully built to be light-weight and mobile, Little said, meaning there won’t be a buried fence line or other physical barriers to stop small predators. 

While Little does what he can to protect his animals, he doesn’t see the need for the state to add another predatory weasel to the mix, even if the likelihood of it attacking his animals is small. 

“We’re spending our tax dollars on somebody’s pet project,” he said. 

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be reached at 724-201-1544 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is Farm and Dairy's editor and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County, where she co-manages the family farm raising beef cattle and sheep with her husband and in-laws. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts. She can be reached at rachel@farmanddairy.com or 724-201-1544.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting. 92% of both citizens AND hunters agree to this. More PGC male bovine excrement. You can’t get 92% of any group to agree on anything! And the exact percentage of both groups? Did they ask 100 people for the survey? And the thought that this will encourage trappers is bogus, as the real fur business is all but dead, thanks to the animal movement. There is so little value in hides that there is no economic value in trapping – it is done by the remaining few only because they enjoy it.
    Reintroduction of any predator is bad news. We have finally seen a resurgent of rabbits which will be prime menu items for these voracious feeders, not to mention both larger-scale and backyard poultry operations. Remember, this is the same organization that handed out the multi flora rose years ago because it was excellent game cover. It has now been declared a noxious weed, spread everywhere by birds, and even a rabbit won’t go in the thorny stuff. No, it would be wise for the PGC to learn to manage what they have and stay out of the “reintroduction business”.

  2. Excellent article, Rachel. I certainly agree with your comments regarding farmers already thinking through how to protect flocks and livestock from predators when choosing to ‘free-range’ in rural areas. Farmers are the original innovators and I find that most that choose to farm intentionally in nature’s image are also wise about the balance of the biological assets we have in PA. We are here to work with nature (and at times outsmart her!) so that we can coexist. I challenge all of us to strive for superiority in intellect regarding the way we manage farms, so that others can enjoy the natural resources we have in common.
    Thanks!

  3. I do not know where your so called 92 percent came from but no where and not one person thinks it’s intelligent to reintroduce another animal to tear up the dwindling rabbit , pheasent,grouse,turkeys population in specific counties. So please check your real statistics . Here again the game commission comes up with ingenious ideas to wreck hunting small game yet again. Coyotes are the prime example . But then again the denial from the game commission is just like everything else. Manipulate stats . No to this .. ive been hunting since the early 80s . I do not even see rabbits anymore where I use to hunt.

  4. You didn’t mention how the successful introduction of the coyote cross was , I don’t trust anything with the game commission or government agencies saying this is a not good thing , I never saw a pool on this , FARM AND DAIRY would be the perfect pool to take , I’ve seen the FISHER at Ohiopyle rock slide area , also had a friend’s hen house invading by one

  5. Another example of the PGC trying to fix what isn’t broken. Like the Saturday opener they poll people that will get the results they want. 92% of the people dont know what a pine marten is. The PGC needs investigated for corruption . They is no oversite for their actions there is no consequence of responsibility for their mistakes. They need to correct the damage they have created

  6. We don’t need anymore Predators added to the mix. What we do need is more Grouse, Turkey’s and Pheasants. You guys are called the Pennsylvania Game commission, not the Pennsylvania Predator commission. When I was a kid, and walked through the woods. I seen numerous game birds. Now, I rarely see them. Bring back a healthy bird population and then we can talk predators. Ed

  7. I think it is a bad idea, I just had 6 of my chickens and 2 ducks killed by a mink, 2/8/23 and there are neighbors close around me.

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