For the first time in nearly 100 years, pine marten are again roaming the Little Belt Mountains. Marten, a member of the weasel family, were historically present in the relatively isolated mountain ranges of central Montana, including the Little Belts.
Pine marten lived in regino nearly a century ago but disappeared because of illegal trapping and predator control. Found through most of western Montana, marten aren’t known to reoccupy remote areas they once lived.
Jay Kolbe of Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks explained, "This is a real restoration project, a conservation project to restore a species like marten that were historically common in these central Montana island ranges."
He added, "Marten are behaviorally very poor distributors; they basically won’t cross non-forested habitat. So once they're gone from an area like the Little Belts, they are very unlikely to naturally recolonize."
FWP teamed up with the Montana Trappers Association and several other groups to restore marten to the region.
Kolbe said, "The trappers we are working with are excited to just see the species restored. And when we mentioned the opportunity to work with them to restore a population of marten in another part of the state, they really jumped at the opportunity to help."
Wildlife managers are optimistic that marten will once again thrive in this range. Kolbe noted, "Over time we should be able to know how many of the original cohort of marten survived, as well as document the local reproduction of the species."
Since the project began, 18 martens have been released in the Little Belts. By the end of February, biologists hope to have translocated at least 30 marten from the Beaverhead, West Pioneer, East Pioneer, Gallatin, Pintler, Flint Creek, and Absaroka-Beartooth mountain ranges. Periodic supplemental translocations may take place in the coming years.
In addition to collaborating with the Montana Trappers Association, the following organizations are also involved: Furbearers Unlimited, Fur Takers of America, the Great Falls and Southwest Montana chapters of Safari Club International, and the U.S. Forest Service.