Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 12, 2014

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

Feds Override Own Scientists, Scrap Plan to Protect Wolverines

Despite Extinction Threat From Global Warming,
Obama Administration Caves to Pressure From States

WASHINGTON— Despite severe threats from global warming, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today reversed the conclusions of its own scientists and withdrew its proposal to protect American wolverines under the Endangered Species Act in the lower 48 states. The withdrawal overrides the recommendations of Service scientists, independent peer reviewers, leading wildlife biologists and scientific organizations.

Photo by Steve Kroschel, USFWS. Photos are available for media use.

“Global warming has put wolverines firmly on the path toward extinction in the lower 48 so it’s really alarming to see the Obama administration cave to political pressure like this,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is the moment when wolverines need our help the most and the agency is turning its back and walking away.”

The estimated 250 to 300 remaining wolverines in the lower 48 face severe threats from global warming, which is shrinking the spring snowpack they need for building sheltered dens to raise their young. Global warming over the next 75 years is projected to wipe out 63 percent of the snowy habitat they need to survive.

Endangered Species Act protection for the wolverines, proposed in 2013, received strong support from five of seven peer reviewers as well as a separate, nine-person independent science panel convened in April to review the science underlying the proposal. On May 17 the assistant director for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Rocky Mountain region concluded that the Service had not found “any other peer-reviewed literature or other bodies of evidence that would lead us to a different conclusion.”  The proposal, though, came under strong opposition from some states in the wolverines’ range, including Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

Today’s announcement follows a May 30 internal memo — signed by Noreen Walsh, director of the Rocky Mountain Region of the Fish and Wildlife Service — ordering federal scientists to reverse the proposed protections. It was based on no new scientific information, but rather on her own opinion regarding uncertainties in the modeling studies used in the listing determination.

“Absolute certainty has never been the standard when it comes to deciding whether or not to protect endangered species. That’s like withholding medicine until a patient is taking their last breath,” Greenwald said. “These wolverines face a very real, clear and present danger from global warming. We know it, federal scientists know it. The only people denying that grim reality are those making this decision to call off protections for one of the rarest, most threatened mammals in the country.”

Last week two scientific societies and some of the nation’s top wildlife biologists raised strong concerns over Walsh’s memo, stating that it set a “a dangerous precedent” by “allowing an administrator to overrule the expert judgment of Service scientists and independent peer reviewers.” The scientists’ letters noted that Endangered Species Act requires that decisions be based on the best available science and does not require absolute scientific certainty before taking protective action. The scientists concluded that the proposed protections were “based on best available science information,” and rebutted the use of uncertainty as an excuse for inaction.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Go back