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SAVING THE AMERICAN WOLVERINE

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 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.

Finally things began to look up when, in July 2011, the wolverine was included in the Center's landmark settlement with the Service compelling it to move forward on listing the wolverine and 756 other imperiled but neglected species. The wolverine was proposed for protection in 2013, with a deadline for final protection the next year — but in July 2014 the Center obtained a leaked memo stating that scientists with the Fish and Wildlife Service had been ordered to reverse their own conclusions and withdraw the previous year's proposal to protect wolverines.

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KEY DOCUMENTS
2014 leaked memo regarding the wolverine's proposed listing
2013 proposed Endangered Species Act listing
2010 "warranted-but-precluded" finding

2008 federal 12-month finding
2008 notice of intent to sue over 12-month finding

ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT PROFILE

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RELATED ISSUES
Carnivore Conservation
Historic Victory for 757 Species
Global Warming and Endangered Species Initiative
The Endangered Species Act

Contact: Noah Greenwald

Photo by Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences