Our little pine marten might have something to say about the installation of wind turbines on North Country summits. With the developing controversy over installing wind turbines on higher summits in the North Country, an interesting study about the American pine marten has begun. As road construction began this a winter ago for the development of 33 wind turbines along ridgelines in Millsfield and Dixville, which at that altitude, is an area home to the state-threatened American pine marten, a study was also becoming underway for the little mammal. Martens are winter specialists, requiring mature spruce-fir forests. In New Hampshire, the majority of these forest types occur above 2,700 feet in elevation, and there, it is of course, commonly windy.
There has not been much research documenting the effects of wind farm development on species such as the American pine marten in these high elevation habitats. So the state’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program has contracted with University of New Hampshire to conduct pre-construction and post-construction research, and track the response of the local marten population. Alexej Siren is the grad student working on the project, and reported that all the martens previously collared had their transmitters replaced during recapture this summer, with some new individuals were captured and collared as well. As mitigation for potential wildlife impact, the wind energy developer, Granite Reliable Power, has partially funded the study.
As part of the work, marten were live-trapped in the fall of 2010 and radio-collared, and also marked with small ear tags. Trail cameras were set up over the winter and baited with sardines or scent lures to attract the martens. This allowed the researchers to document their presence within the study area. It is well known that pine martens are easily trapped, as they are quite curious critters, which allows wildlife biologists to engage them readily in tallying their numbers.
This past spring and summer, these radio-collared martens was tracked on a regular basis with traditional ground telemetry to measure seasonal home range size and habitat use. University of New Hampshire said it was able to observe six martens during the past winter in this way, and summer ranges were analyzed this year. More individuals have now been live-trapped to determine population size and distribution. A total of 12 martens were captured, with five of them being recaptures from last year. Of these animals, eight were males with one being a juvenile. Four females were obtained, including a single juvenile.
Siren explained that the juveniles were not being used for monitoring because they travel further than the adults. “Young are dispersing and trying to establish their own territory so if we tracked their movement it would appear they have a much larger home range than they actually do.”
Male pine martens are significantly larger than females in both weight and length. She said, “Overall, summer weights were greater than winter and two of the females were lactating, indicating that the habitat is productive for marten.” Siren is continuing to track the collared marten over this 2012 winter season.
“This will be the second winter tracking some of the same individuals from last year and the first winter tracking some of the new animals,” she said. “The increased number of animals will provide more information on winter habitat use, effects of wind development on marten activity and movements, home range size, and will also let us compare habitat use from one winter to the next.” Several volunteers assisted Siren with the pine marten project during summer 2011.
The graceful pine marten has a slender body with a long, bushy tail. The tail and the underparts are shaded darker than the brownish back, but the throat area is lighter. This pale, buffy patch extends to the breast. They are commonly yellowish-brown to dark brown furred, and always seem cuter than their larger cousin, the fisher. The valuable pelt of the American marten is shiny and luxuriant, resembling that of the closely related sable in Europe. They also have pointy noses, black eyes, and rounded cat-like ears. You would consider them about the size of a small house cat if you ever saw one. There has been a decline in their numbers in the Northeast since the turn of the century.
Getting out there ahead of time with these surveys, biologists will be able to look at direct impacts to this mustelid and other wildlife species such as the Bicknell’s thrush before and after construction. Issues such as habitat loss, fragmentation, and disruption of movement are important to be adequately assessed. The Nongame Program and University of New Hampshire will produce an informative report that may be used to address potential impacts from future wind farms on high elevation habitat. We can always hope conclusions will create recommendations for future siting of wind energy facilities, and also address further research needs.
Dave Eastman also broadcasts “Country Ecology” four times weekly over WMWV 93.5 fm. As Vice President of the Lakes Region Chapter/ASNH, he welcomes you to monthly programs at the Loon Center in Moultonborough. He is available at: firstname.lastname@example.org (or) www.countryecology.com for consultation.
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