A federal judge in Montana has ordered the US Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider protecting the wolverine under the Endangered Species Act, ruling the agency made “serious errors” that undermined its decision to 2020 not to extend these protections.
It was in October 2020 that Fish and Wildlife officials declined to extend threat status under the ESA to the small but ferocious carnivore, saying wolverine populations were doing well. Part of that decision was based on a 2018 “species status assessment” which noted that “the wolverine appears resilient within its contiguous United States range.” The assessment pegged the wolverine population in the country at 318, with potential habitat to support 644 individuals. Canada, meanwhile, claims thousands of wolverines, according to the assessment.
This decision was challenged in December 2020 by conservation organizations who argue that there are fewer than 300 wolverines left in the contiguous United States, and that listing the wolverines as threatened or endangered would trigger much-needed new conservation efforts. .
In his ruling Thursday night, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy gave the wildlife agency 18 months to determine whether the wolverines deserved to be put back on the list. In the 15-page decision, Molloy wrote that the Fish and Wildlife Service erred in relying on “Canadian wolverines to establish connectivity, genetic diversity, and population density” with those in the United States.
The judge also wrote that “it is troubling that the scientific studies the agency is now supporting deserve further scrutiny. [of listing status] existed at the time the Service made its 2020 decision but were not considered.”
Wolverines, the largest terrestrial members of the weasel family, once roamed the northern part of the United States and as far south as New Mexico in the Rocky Mountains and southern California in the Sierra Nevada Range. After more than a century of trapping and habitat loss, lower 48 wolverines now exist only as small, fragmented populations in Idaho, Montana, Washington, Wyoming, and northeastern Oregon.
In the wolverine’s last strongholds, the species is directly threatened by climate change. Wolverines depend on deep snow areas until late spring. Pregnant females dig their dens in this snowpack to give birth and raise their young. Snow cover is already declining in the western mountains, a trend that is expected to worsen with global warming.
Wolverine populations are also threatened by trapping, human disturbance, habitat fragmentation, and extremely low numbers resulting in low genetic diversity.
Wolverines have been spotted in Denali National Park, Yosemite National Park, yellowstone national parkMount Rainier National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Glacier National Parkand North Cascades National Park, among others. It’s hard to say how many wolverines roam the parks. Their extensive travel, sneaky scavenger-like maneuvers, and solo dwelling make it difficult for researchers to keep a close eye on their habits.
The 2018 Fish and Wildlife assessment based its 2019 decision on presenting a rosy picture of wolverine populations, stating that “wolverines occupy areas in the west-northwest United States and have recently dispersed into historically occupied areas including California, Utah, Colorado and Oregon; verified breeding wolverine populations are found in Idaho, Washington (Northern Cascades), Montana, and northwestern Wyoming. An individual wolverine (female) was also documented from 2004 until its death in 2010 in Michigan. »
“The Wolverine deserves protection under the Endangered Species Act, and this is a step to ensure the species does not suffer further harm before it happens,” Amanda said. Galvan, an associate attorney with Earthjustice’s Northern Rockies office, following the decision. “The FWS has previously ignored key studies that illustrate the threats the wolverine continues to face due to global warming. By examining a fuller picture of the species’ circumstances, we hope the agency will identify the need for protections. increased.
With regained candidate species status, the wolverine will receive some protections under the Endangered Species Act while Fish and Wildlife is reconsidering whether it should be listed as threatened or endangered under the LEVD. Federal agencies should discuss with the Service any actions they take that may harm wolverines. The health and safety of wolverines and their habitat must also be considered in planning decisions that could destroy or degrade their critical habitat.
“The wolverine is a test case. How to protect snow-dependent species in the age of climate change? said Joseph Vaile of the KS Wild conservation group in southern Oregon. “One thing is certain. Without federal protections, this majestic species will be another victim of climate change.
Earthjustice represents a broad coalition of conservation groups in the lawsuit – the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Clearwater, Idaho Conservation League, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Sierra Club and Rocky Mountain Wild.