Wildlife

Ferrets and Pine Martens in Utah

The black-footed ferret (the French word for "thief") was once considered the rarest land mammal in North America.

Some of the first Europeans to come to Utah were the fur trappers and among the most prized fur-bearing animals were the ferrets, mink and martens that still live in the area. Part of the weasel family that also includes otters, fishers wolverines and skunks, these hunters help in keeping down the rodent population.

Utah has badgers, mink, skunks, pine marten, long and short-tailed weasels and river otter, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. The black-footed ferret (the French word for “thief”) was once considered the rarest land mammal in North America. The only one native to this continent, it lived primarily in the great plains where it feasted on now nearly eradicated prairie dog. But there were a number of historic sightings of in Utah, although only one, in the 1950s, that was confirmed.

Part of a reintroduction program around the country, the sleek cream-colored creature with black feet, a black tipped tail and a Zorro mask, is coming back, but still federally protected.

One of the most prized pelts for early trappers was that of the marten, also known as the pine or American marten. Resembling the sleek Russian sable, these excellent climbers with chocolate brown coats live high in trees or deep underground. The size of a housecat, their vertical eyebrows serve the function of a cat’s whiskers, specialized hairs with sensory cells that can help them navigate through tunnels and other small spaces. Their preferred habitat is in high elevation old growth forests.