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Marten reintroduction plan tabled

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(The Center Square) — The return of a long-lost woodland critter to Pennsylvania is delayed — or may not happen at all.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission was considering a $2 million project to bring back the American marten, also known as the pine marten, to the commonwealth. About the size of two small cans of beans, the weasel disappeared from the woods here in the early 1900s due to deforestation and overhunting.

Officials planned to introduce 300 martens in the Northern Tier and estimated the population could hit 10,000 martens statewide. Within a year or two of the plan’s approval, the animals would get released into the wild.

During the PGC’s January meeting, however, instead of approving the plan, commissioners tabled it by a 6-3 vote.

Though feedback garnered from the public supported the plan, as did the Pennsylvania Trappers Association, the Game Commission was concerned that a hunters’ survey found only 37% support for marten reintroduction, 32% opposition, and 31% neutrality, according to a PGC press release.

“While the commission’s marten plan is well-researched, the results of the survey indicate the agency has some work to do with hunters before moving forward,” the PGC noted.

Thomas Keller, a PGC furbearer biologist who wrote the reintroduction plan, hopes the plan will get another vote in April. If not, it will be tabled indefinitely.

“They wanted to go back and take a look at that 31% to understand a bit better as to why those people were neutral,” Keller said. “Our strategy is to reach back out to folks.”

The setback does not mean, though, that reintroductions aren’t happening. The PGC plans to bring back bobwhite quail to a site in Franklin County in March.

What sets the American marten plan apart isn’t the animal, but the process. The Commission has established a way to do it that includes the public and relevant groups, moving away from an internal approach.

“We haven’t ever done this before, and that’s the tricky part. When we reintroduced species in the past, we’ve never gone through this process,” Keller said. “When you look across the nation, very rarely do agencies go through this process of determining feasibility, then developing a plan, doing so much public outreach — but I would say this is the correct way.”

The PGC reintroduced many species during the 1950s-1970s, but it was a “throw these animals out and hope for the best” approach, he noted. Now, there’s an ecological angle to ensure the animals will thrive and a social angle to ensure the public supports reintroductions.

Keller encouraged anyone with questions to reach out to the PGC at pamarten@pa.gov.

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