Pining for volunteers

Jeff Elliott
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The Marten Hair Snag Project is seeking assistance from residents of the Northern Peninsula

A Newfoundland pine marten. — Photo courtesy of Parks Canada

The Marten Hair Snag Project, an enterprise backed by the Department of Environment and Conservation’s Wildlife Division, is currently seeking volunteers on the Northern Peninsula.

According to the Wildlife Division’s 2012-13 Hunting and Trapping Guide, the project is dedicated to collecting hair samples from pine marten, which are used to identify individuals, determine sex and establish marten locations.

The animal is listed as threatened under the endangered species legislation.

Marten are showing signs of recovery, including population and range increases, it reads. But, continued support of marten recovery efforts and documentation of population and distribution changes are needed.

The Marten Hair Snag Project was initiated as a pilot effort in 2010 to see if it would materialize and generate interest, said Glenda Bateman, spokeswoman for the project.

The project saw few volunteers that year.

Its 2011 season, however, garnered an abundance of interest across the island, said Bateman.

“We had 56 volunteer groups in total — a lot more than we were expecting,” she said. “We didn’t get many from the Northern Peninsula, so we are really hoping to get some volunteers this time around.”

Any residents interested in volunteering their time can choose to work in a group or treat it as a solo effort.

The volunteers will be provided with all of the necessary supplies, said Bateman, which include: approximately 10 wooden apparatuses (hair snags); sardines for bait; sticky tabs that line the inside of the box to collect fur; and skunk lure.

Bateman ensures that volunteers will be properly instructed on how to install the hair snags upon delivery of the supplies.

The devices are to be nailed onto a tree at chest height, and the surrounding area scented with skunk lure.

Because the marten are such curious animals, said Bateman, they will investigate the skunk lure, as it’s a foreign scent to them. When they get close enough to the area they will be able to pick up the scent of the sardines, track down the scent’s location, and climb into the hair snag to feast, subsequently leaving a hair sample behind.

The snag is to be checked every 10 to 14 days.

If any hair samples are left behind, the volunteers are asked to remove it from the snag, stick it in an envelope and date it according to the day of the week it was found and which snag it was collected from, before sending the samples to Bateman.

Once received, she said, the enveloped samples are then sent away to Memorial University for DNA sampling to determine specifics.

She also said the marten would be given individual IDs, which can be tracked to see if the snags are frequented by the same marten.

“The more samples we are able to collect, the more interesting the trends become,” said Bateman. “It becomes possible to see if one particular marten is repeatedly stopping by the same snag. We can also attempt to estimate how many marten are actually visiting a snag.”

The sampling is generally done during the fall and winter months to avoid attracting other wild animals.

In 2011, the project successfully collected 79 hair samples in total, 47 of which were confirmed to be marten, said Bateman. They were also able to create 33 individual IDs.

The biggest success, she said, was the confirmation of eight samples from the Bay-St. George area, an area they suspected to be inhabited by marten due to its proximity to Corner Brook — a place already well known for having marten, yet, unconfirmed prior to the project.

“The longer the experiment continues, the better we will be able to determine specific numbers and abundance,” said Bateman.

She acknowledged that a lot of people shy away from volunteering because they don’t imagine marten living in their area.

“At this moment we are investigating the presence and absence of marten, so it is important to have snags set up everywhere,” said Bateman. “If, for example, a person sets up 10 hair snags and no hair samples are collected after a few weeks, we can determine, then, that the presence of marten in that particular area must be low.”

All data is important data, she said.

Any volunteers wishing to take part are asked to contact Bateman at 709-640-4696 or through email  at martenvolunteers@gmail.com for additional information.

Northern Pen

Organizations: Department of Environment and Conservation, Wildlife Division, Memorial University for DNA

Geographic location: Northern Peninsula, St. George, Corner Brook

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