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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Wolverines threatened by climate change

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Conservation groups challenge Bush decision to deny protections

A coalition of ten conservation groups, including Conservation Northwest, concerned by what they see as government corruption of science and failure to acknowledge the serious threat of climate change, have filed a lawsuit today in the U.S. District Court against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for its failure to protect wolverines under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Wolverines threatened by climate change

Melanie, a wolverine collared by biologists in the North Cascades, inspects a tree

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Bellingham, WA Sep 30, 2008

The wolverine, a solitary animal known for its ability cross mountain ranges and cover large distances, is likely at risk from changes in the climate.   A coalition of ten conservation groups, concerned by what they see as government corruption of science and failure to acknowledge the serious threat of climate change, have filed a lawsuit today in the U.S. District Court against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for its failure to protect wolverines under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Already suffering in the United States from trapping, habitat loss, and other human actions, the wolverine is especially vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate.  Similar to polar bears, wolverines depend on areas that maintain deep snow from February through early May where they dig their dens to birth and raise their young.  Snowpack in the western mountains is in decline due to climate change. Wolverines rely on the wild, unroaded landscapes found in the Western US and have large home ranges that can include up to 500 square miles.

“Washington State is one of the last strongholds for this gritty animal,” said Joe Scott of Conservation Northwest in Bellingham. Wildlife biologists have trapped a couple wolverines in the North Cascades with satellite tracking collars, documenting their amazing cross-country movements.  Individual animals have recently been photographed as far south as Mt. Adams, indicating that the shy animals may be slowly moving back into their former range. “Wolverines are the ultimate survivors, able to live in mountains that routinely get 20 feet of snow. But in the face of climate change we must work with our Canadian friends, not depend on them, to ensure these animals have a future,” said Scott.

A decision by field and regional biologists that protection for wolverines is “warranted” under the ESA was reversed at the eleventh hour by the Bush administration, according to the conservation groups that filed suit today.

Documents received in response to a Freedom of Information Act request revealed there was a last-minute scramble to reverse a positive ESA listing decision “because of the climate change issues in light of the ongoing discussions in DC on the polar bear finding,” according to one memo authored by a FWS biologist.

In March, the FWS acknowledged that wolverines in the lower-48 states are threatened because of their low numbers, isolation from Canadian populations, and climate change - but refused to protect the species because the agency found: (1) they are not sufficiently “discrete” from Canadian populations, and (2) the wolverine’s current range in the lower 48 states is not significant to the species as a whole.  The conservation groups maintain that this is an illegal “about-face” from previous listing decisions regarding lynx, grizzly bears, and wolves, for example.

“Wolverines are an iconic symbol of the West’s wild places,” said Scott.  “The future of the West is connected to how we take care of the wolverine and its habitat.”

Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Friends of the Clearwater, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Idaho Conservation League, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Wyoming Outdoor Council.

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