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Government Denies the Wolverine Protection under ESA

Fish and Wildlife Service defies scientific evidence in refusing to protect the species

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released its decision to deny Endangered Species Act protection to the wolverine.

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Bellingham, WA Mar 11, 2008

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released its decision on whether to grant Endangered Species Act protection to the wolverine. Despite important new evidence that the wolverine is in desperate straits, the agency declared, for the second time, that it will do nothing to assist the rare creature.

Wolverines are threatened by their small and fragmented populations, trapping in Montana and disturbance of its denning areas by snowmobiles and other types of recreation. The rare wolverine exists at extremely low numbers and reproduces very slowly, such that wolverine populations are particularly vulnerable to trapping, especially females. Wolverines are still legally trapped in Montana.

In Washington a couple wolverines have been trapped by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists in the Pasayten Wilderness but are still considered extremely rare.

New scientific evidence also has raised concerns about the effects of global warming on wolverines.

“What we know about wolverines is that females select reproductive den sites only in areas that retain snow until late spring, and due to global warming, there will be far fewer such places in the Cascades,” said Tim Preso of Earthjustice, who has represented environmental groups that have tried for eight years to force the government to enforce and obey the law regarding the wolverine. “The wolverine was in bad shape eight years ago; with global warming upon us, its plight is even more dire now.”

The wolverine, the largest member of the weasel family, once roamed across the northern tier of the U.S. and as far south as New Mexico in the Rockies and southern California in the Sierra Nevada. Now, its range is limited to Idaho, Wyoming, Washington State, and Montana.

In 2000, a coalition of conservation groups including Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Clearwater, and Conservation Northwest petitioned Fish and Wildlife to list the wolverine as a protected species under the Endangered Species Act. The agency refused, so the groups sued and the court ordered the agency to reconsider. It did so and then refused again. The groups sued a second time, and the court gave the agency a year to review new scientific information regarding the wolverine and render a new decision. Today’s announcement is the result.

The primary reason for the decline of wolverine populations is that the animals have a low resiliency because of their low densities and low reproduction, or the number of young that are successfully produced and raised. This means that wolverine populations have a difficult time rebounding once their numbers have been lowered by either nature or human-influenced factors.

In their press release the FWS said that wolverines didn’t meet the criteria necessary for protection under the Endangered Species Act stating that “the wolverine population in the contiguous United States is not discrete, because it is not separated from wolverine populations in Canada.” 

But a US population of a species automatically qualifies as discrete because of the political boundary. Even if US wolverines are connected to Canadian wolverines, there are significant differences in the wildlife policies and laws of the two countries that make it problematic to depend on Canadian animals to maintain US animals. Thus to be protected by law in this country wolverines in the US must only be proven as significant and imperiled.

“The most troubling thing about this ruling is that the administration is essentially saying, ‘Why bother? We don’t need wolverines in the US because there are wolverines in Canada,’” said Joe Scott of Conservation Northwest.  “By that measure, why protect and recover any animals in the Pacific Northwest, like salmon, bald eagles, or gray wolves?  Why even bother to have an Endangered Species Act?”


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