Endangered Species Act Protection proposed for Wolverine threatened by the loss of Spring Snowpack from Climate Change

PORTLAND, Ore. / February 1, 2013 — In accordance with a historic agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed Endangered Species Act protections for American wolverines in the contiguous United States. The fierce, solitary hunters once roamed a large swath of the mountainous West, from Colorado to the Sierra Nevada in California and north through Washington and Montana. Today they are limited to Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and a single animal in California. Their dependence on persistent spring snowpack for denning makes them severely threatened by climate change.

The wolverine, the largest land-dwelling species in the mustelid family, is famous for its daring and tenacity — it’s been known to prey on animals as big as moose, and many stories tell of mountain lions, bears and wolves retreating from their kills at a wolverine’s approach. Unfortunately, in the contiguous United States, this tough scavenger-predator is barely holding on. Trapping and habitat loss have been dramatically shrinking its populations for more than a century, and now it’s faced with new human threats like snowmobiles tearing through its habitat and, worse, global warming threatening the deep snow it relies on for life activities from travelling to denning and raising kits.  Yet the federal government has repeatedly refused to protect the wolverine, first denying proof of its peril in the lower 48 states and then declaring that, while the animal may be imperiled here, it doesn’t need to be listed under the Endangered Species Act because wolverine populations in Canada are still stable. Like many other species, from the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl to the Mexican garter snake, the American wolverine has been denied the protection it needs simply because its peers across the border are more widespread. In September 2008, the Center and nine allies sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for deciding not to protect the wolverine and letting political considerations — such as the implications of protecting another global warming-threatened mammal — win out over scientific findings on the animal’s danger. Nine months later, the Service agreed to re-examine the wolverine’s situation, but in December 2010 merely put the mammal on the candidate list, to await protections indefinitely.  In July 2011 the Center reached a landmark settlement with the Service compelling it to move forward on listing 757 species, including the wolverine, whose final decision is expected in 2014.

Wolverine © Jeffrey C. Lewis / U.S. Department of Transportation

“The wolverine has a reputation for killing prey many times its size, but it’s no match for global climate change, which is shrinking spring snowpack across the West,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center’s endangered species director. “I’m glad wolverines are finally getting the protection they need to survive, but if we’re going to save the wolverine and countless other wildlife species, as well as the world we all depend on, we need to take immediate steps to substantially and quickly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.”

The Center has been working for protection of wolverines since 1995, including participating in litigation with allies to overturn a negative finding made by the Bush administration, resulting in it being placed on the candidate list. In 2011 the Center reached a settlement agreement requiring the Fish and Wildlife Service to make protection decisions for 757 species, including the wolverine, which was required to get a decision this fiscal year. A total of 54 species have received final protection under the agreement. The wolverine is the 64th species proposed for protection with final protection expected within 12-months.

“Our settlement agreement is moving protection forward for dozens of plants and animals that have been waiting for decades,” said Greenwald. “From the iconic wolverine to the unusual Ozark hellbender, some of America’s rarest and most unique creatures are benefitting from this agreement.”

Endangered Species Act protection for wolverines will likely put an end to plans by the state of Montana to allow wolverine trapping. It also will mean a likely reintroduction of the animals to Colorado, with today’s rule allowing for wolverines to be moved to the state under relaxed regulations that defines released animals as experimental and nonessential. Similar rules have been used to reintroduce wolves to Yellowstone National Park and the Southwest and black-footed ferrets to several areas.

“By protecting the wolverine from trapping and other threats and reintroducing it to historic habitat, we’re giving it the best possible chance to survive a warming world,” said Greenwald. “Today’s decision will allow many Americans the chance to one day see one of these magnificent animals in the wild.”

Source: Center for Biological Diversity