Once endangered Newfoundland pine marten making comeback

Few of us have ever seen a Newfoundland pine marten, but there's a better chance now than ever, since wildlife officials say there are hundreds more than there were 40 years ago.

The mammals are only about as big as a house cat, and they've been on Canada's threatened species list for about a decade.

The Committee on Endangered Species in Canada (COSEWIC) relaxed the "endangered" designation in 2007 due to an increase in their population.

Now, there are signs that their numbers are continuing to be on the rise, in areas outside their traditional territory which includes Red Indian Lake, Little Grand Lake and Main River – all in western Newfoundland – and in Terra Nova National Park.

John Blake, who works with the wildlife division of the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources, said people are seeing Marten in places they haven't seen them in as much as 50 years.

Could be as many as 1,500 marten

According to Blake, the animals reached their lowest point in the 1970s and 1980s, when there were estimated to be between 350 and 700 of them.

He says the department is putting together more precise figures, but it estimates that there are now anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500.

Blake credited several factors for the apparent rebound, including more food. Marten eat the red-back vole, a mammal that's between the size of a mouse and a shrew, and there's been an increase in that population.

He added that in the late 2000s, government introduced requirements for so-called "modified trapping," including the use of brass snare wire or six-strand picture cord, rather than stainless steel, for small-game trapping. Marten are more easily able to break free of brass wire or picture cord if they're caught by accident. 

According to Blake, that seems to have helped a lot.

"Hunters and trappers of the province kind of took it on the chin and had to adopt significant alterations to their activities," said Blake, "but the change resulted in a positive benefit for the marten."

While nobody seems to know for sure whether the marten population is out of the woods yet, Blake is encouraged by what he's seeing.

"Species at risk management and recovery of species can be successful if there's widespread collaboration and everybody takes an interest," he said.