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Sable Marten and Fisher

Marten, sable, and fisher are species of medium-sized carnivores in the family Mustelidae, which also includes the weasels, otters, badgers, minks, skunks, and wolverine. Marten, sable, and fisher are generally solitary animals, living in forests of the Northern Hemisphere. All of these species have highly valuable fur, and are trapped intensively.

The American pine marten (Martes americana) ranges widely in conifer-dominated and mixed wood forests of North America. The closely related pine marten (M. martes) occurs in similar habitats in northern Europe and Asia, as does the Japanese marten (M. melampus) of Japan. The fisher (M. pennanti) of North America is a larger species, as are the beech marten (M. foina) of Eurasia, the sable (M. zibellina) of northern Asia, and the Himalayan marten (M. flavigula) of mountainous regions of southern Asia.

All of these species are excellent climbers, but they also forage on the ground. These animals are efficient predators, feeding largely on squirrels, rabbits, hares, smaller mammals, grouse, partridge, and pheasant.

All of the martens, sable, and fishers have a dense, lustrous fur, which is greatly prized by furriers. These animals have been relentlessly trapped for centuries, and they have become widely endangered or extirpated from much of their natural ranges.

Sable is the source of one of the world's most desirable furs. The original range of sable in northern Europe and Asia was greater than 20 million sq mi (52 million sq km), but by the mid-1700s the species had been widely extirpated by trapping, and survived in only a few refugia. Fortunately, the sable has greatly increased its range and abundance in recent decades, because of protection in some areas and management of trapping pressure elsewhere, along with the release of thousands of captive-bred animals into suitable habitats in Russia.

American marten and fisher have extensive ranges in North America. Both species suffered many regional extirpations because of intensive trapping over much of their range. These species are also at risk from habitat loss associated with forestry and agriculture, because over much of their range they are significantly dependent on old growth, coniferous forests. Fortunately, both of these species are now protected over much of their range, and they have been reintroduced to some areas from which they had been extirpated. The populations of marten and fisher are increasing in some areas, although their conservation status requires close monitoring and attention.

Bill Freedman

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