An Apostle Islands collaborative carnivore diversity and abundance project between the National Park Service, Northland College, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison led to an unexpected surprise: the discovery of American marten on Stockton Island.

The American marten is on Wisconsin’s endangered species list and not been sighted in the islands since 1969.

In the summer of 2015, researchers were checking thousands of images from trail cameras on Stockton Island as part of the carnivore project which looks at island wildlife diversity and abundance throughout the Apostle Islands.

“We had just docked and [NPS ranger] Julie Van Stappen informed me that her group had looked through some of the images on the way to the docks and discovered marten,” said Erik Olson, assistant professor of natural resources.

“It didn’t register at that moment, but later I realized the ramifications of it. Wow, where did these marten come from? How many are there? Why didn’t I collect that mustelid scat on the trail?”

Hence a second but complimentary project: the American Marten Project. “We’re trying to better understand where these marten originally came from, what their distribution is within the islands, genetic diversity, and possibly, population estimates and sex ratios,” Olson said.

Researchers and students are looking for answers through a combination of scat collection, genetic analysis, trail camera work, and opportunistic observations from visitors and National Park Service staff. This past summer, Olson hiked most of the islands with trails and found numerous samples consistent with the characteristics of marten scat. Students have assisted with the collection and preparation of scat samples, to be sent for genetic analysis at UW-Madison.

Olson said the research is still in the early stages, but that the team aims to publish the results as they come in. What he does know for sure is that little would be known without teamwork.

“To be able to pull together the resources and human and brain power of faculty and students from Northland College and UW-Madison, as well as the Park Service, has been instrumental in documenting American marten on Stockton Island and now other islands,” he said.

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