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American wolverine

Missoulian, October 13, 2014

Wildlife groups sue for wolverine protections
By Rob Chaney

Wolverines were illegally denied federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, a coalition of environmental groups now claims in Missoula’s U.S. District Court.

“The denial of protection for the wolverine is yet another unfortunate example of politics entering into what should be a purely scientific decision,” Center for Biological Diversity endangered species director Noah Greenwald said in an email Monday. “All of the science and the agency’s own scientists say the wolverine is severely endangered by loss of spring snowpack caused by climate change, yet the agency denied protection anyway.”

The plaintiffs include the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Idaho Conservation League, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Friends of the Clearwater, Conservation Northwest, Rocky Mountain Wild and the Center for Biological Diversity. The Bozeman-based law firm Earthjustice represents the coalition.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offices were closed Monday for the Columbus Day holiday. However, agency Director Dan Ashe said in July that wolverine populations appeared to be increasing for more than a decade. The agency decided in May not add wolverines to its ESA list.

The state wildlife managers of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming also supported the no-listing decision in a September letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition to the upward population trend, they argued that climate change models over the next 40 to 80 years were too uncertain to base habitat decisions on.

Earthjustice’s Adrienne Maxwell said the lawsuit would challenge both those arguments. She pointed to the large body of evidence compiled by Fish and Wildlife Service internal scientists and outside reviewers backing up the concern that changing snow levels would have a drastic impact on wolverines’ ability to raise young. Wolverine females give birth in burrows built in deep mountain snowpack, and move their young several times after birth to new snow burrows.

“If as the science predicts, they lose 65 percent of habitat by end of century, there’s no indication the current population can be maintained,” Maxwell said. “Each wolverine has a large home range. They need habitat to connect, disperse, and meet other wolverines.”

About the population trend, Maxwell said the federal agency failed to back up its claim with any data about wolverine numbers.

“There’s no science to indicate they’re increasing or decreasing in the lower 48 states,” Maxwell said. “They speculate the population may be increasing, but it may go the other way. “But we do know the current population is not adequate to support long-term or short-term viability.”

FWS estimates about 300 wolverines live in the continental United States. They’re concentrated in high mountain ranges of Montana, Idaho, Washington, Wyoming and Oregon. Montana was the only state in the lower 48 that allowed wolverine trapping. That stopped in 2012, when FWS announced was reconsidering the carnivore’s status as a possibly threatened species and a state court judge blocked the trapping season while the review took place.

© Copyright 2014 missoulian.com.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton