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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Wolverines closer to long-awaited federal protections

“Threatened” listing will help protect species and promote recovery

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today its proposal to list the wolverine in the lower-48 states as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Service acknowledged that wolverines deserve protection because of their small population size and threats posed to their habitat by climate change. If finalized, the move will bring new resources to help Washington’s recovering wolverine population.

Wolverines closer to long-awaited federal protections

2012 Remote camera image from Bootjack Mountain in the Cascades, where Conservation Northwest's Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project searches for rare wildlife

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Feb 01, 2013

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today its proposal to list the wolverine in the lower-48 states as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Service acknowledged that wolverines deserve protection because of their small population size and threats posed to their habitat by climate change. If finalized, the move will bring new resources to help Washington’s recovering wolverine population. 

“The remote, rugged, and snowy North Cascades are ideal wolverine habitat,” said Dave Werntz, Science and Conservation Director with Conservation Northwest. “Protection under the Endangered Species Act will help our wolverine population survive an uncertain future with a warming climate, shrinking snowpack, and increasingly fragmented habitat.” 

Federal researchers have been studying Washington’s wolverines since 2005. They’re tracking seven females and four males that inhabit the North Cascades transboundary region, and have located two natal den sites. Conservation Northwest’s Remote Camera Project has documented three additional wolverines in the Cascades using unique chest markings and DNA from hair snags. Other wolverine sightings have been reported from Mt. Baker near Bellingham to Mt. Adams in southern Washington. While Washington State has experienced a flurry of wolverine activity in recent years, researchers estimate that fewer than 300 wolverines survive in the western United States. 

The Service’s proposal resulted from more than a decade of consistent pressure from several conservation groups, including three separate legal actions taken to promote ESA listing.

“This proposal at long last gives the wolverine a fighting chance at survival in the lower-48 states and ensures that wolverines will continue to inhabit our nation’s wildest landscapes,” said Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso, who represented conservationists in court.

Wolverines are rare, wide-ranging alpine carnivores. As the largest land dwelling member of the weasel family, wolverines were once widespread across the contiguous United States and now are constrained to remote wilderness regions of the Cascade and Rocky Mountains where heavy snowpack persists well into spring. Female wolverines require deep snow for their dens, digging eight or more feet into the snow to provide warmth and shelter for their kits. But wolverines may lose up to two-thirds of suitable habitat by the end of this century. Researchers estimate that the extent of areas in the western U.S. with persistent spring snowpack is likely to recede 33% by 2045 and 63% by 2099 as a result of climate change.

Due to climate change and increasing human development, wolverines are becoming increasingly isolated in their mountain strongholds. Maintaining and restoring habitat connectivity and protecting wolverines from trapping and other losses is key to allowing them to persist in their scattered habitats and helping them move safely across the landscape.

The Service's proposal only recognizes the risk of climate change decreasing and fragmenting habitat for this species with this listing, but not existing land management or human use of wolverine habitat.

 “For wolverines to survive over the long run, they need to be able to reclaim habitat they once occupied,” said Kylie Paul, Rockies and Plains Representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “Federal protections will provide resources to help ensure that wolverine populations can expand, remain connected, and are resilient enough to overcome the looming impacts of climate change as well as other threats.”

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Background: Today’s proposal to protect the species marks the culmination of a lengthy advocacy campaign by conservationists that spanned three presidential administrations.  That campaign began in 2000 with a petition to the Fish and Wildlife Service requesting a listing of the species under the Endangered Species Act. When the Service refused to act, conservationists successfully went to federal court to put the agency on a schedule for the listing process. Then, when the Service in 2003 issued a preliminary negative finding on the listing petition, conservationists won in court again, this time eliciting a 2005 opinion from a federal judge that the Service ignored “substantial scientific information” demonstrating threats to the species. That ruling sent the Service back to the drawing board, but the agency returned in 2008 with yet another negative listing finding for the wolverine. Conservationists returned to court, this time yielding a settlement by which the Service agreed to reconsider its finding. In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that wolverines warranted federal protection, but further action was delayed because of other priorities. 

Related links:

USFWS species profile, listing history

Proposed Rule


Recent wolverine stories, blogs from Conservation Northwest:

Chasing the phantom, PBS Nature

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