Spotting the American marten in Wisconsin is no easy task. So, it’s no surprise that park officials at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore initially doubted what they were seeing when visitors shared photos of the mammal that’s endangered in the state.
“In 2010, this photo was taken and it was just said, ‘Well, that’s a fisher,'” recalled Ken Pemble, cultural and natural resource technician with the park. “Nobody expected there to be martens so you’re not looking for them. (But in) 2015 we look at that photograph again and it was definitely a marten.”
The small, rare member of the weasel family was completely wiped out in Wisconsin during the early 20th century as the result of trapping, habitat loss and wildfires. The state began a program to bring back the marten in the 1950s when state conservation workers reintroduced a handful of animals on the Apostle Islands.
That attempt was believed to be a failure until visitor photos surfaced and researchers captured shots of the marten with camera traps on the islands.
“We just coincidentally had a carnivore project going on,” said Erik Olson, associate professor of natural resources at Northland College in Ashland. “That then documented them on Stockton Island. That led to a whole bunch of questions: Where are they in the islands? Where do they come from and what’s the relative abundance across these islands?”