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Obtaining Legal Protections for Wolverines

A wolverine.
Visceral Image / iStockphoto

What's at Stake

The wolverine is among the rarest mammals in the lower-48 states and faces severe threats from habitat fragmentation and disturbance, trapping, and climate change.

Case Overview

The wolverine, the largest land-dwelling member of the weasel family, once roamed across the northern tier of the United States and as far south as New Mexico in the Rockies and Southern California in the Sierra Nevada range. After more than a century of trapping and habitat loss, wolverines in the lower-48 have been reduced to small, fragmented populations in Idaho, Montana, Washington, Wyoming and northeast Oregon.

With no more than 300 wolverines remaining in these regions, the species is at direct risk from climate change because wolverines depend on areas that maintain deep snow through late spring, when pregnant females dig their dens into the snowpack to birth and raise their young. Snowpack is already in decline in the western mountains, a trend that is predicted to worsen. Wolverine populations also are threatened by trapping, human disturbance, extremely low population numbers resulting in low genetic diversity, and fragmentation of habitat.

The Fish & Wildlife Service has disregarded well-established scientific evidence, including the recommendations of its own scientists, in speculating that the wolverine might be capable of withstanding the projected loss of 63 percent of its snowy habitat in the lower 48 by the year 2085. Contrary to the Service’s speculation, every one of the 562 verified wolverine den sites in North America and Scandinavia occurred in snow; 95 percent of worldwide summer wolverine observations and 89 percent of year-round wolverine observations fell within areas characterized by persistent spring snowpack.

Elimination of this snowy habitat due to warming temperatures presents a direct threat to the wolverine’s survival—a danger compounded by the increasing isolation and fragmentation of wolverine habitats that threatens remaining populations with localized extinctions and inbreeding.

For more than a decade, Earthjustice has persistently fought to win new legal protections for the wolverine.

Case Updates

August 14, 2013 | Feature

"Never Ruin a Bear’s Nap": An Interview with Wildlife Photographer Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy, a wildlife photographer who has spent countless hours documenting the beauty and wildlife of Yellowstone National Park, speaks with Earthjustice about his decades of hiking, camping and skiing across Yellowstone, a place he refers to as "one of the finest wild land ecosystems in the world."

May 17, 2013 | In the News: Great Falls Tribune

End wolverine trapping in Montana

Following a lawsuit by Earthjustice, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering granting threatened species protections to the wolverine. In Montana, the state’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department has declared it will resist any lawsuit that would ban the trapping of wolverines, a practice that can severely threaten the species’ ability to sustain itself. Wolverines, solitary and far-ranging animals, are already a rare sight in the region.

April 3, 2013 | Feature

Winning One for the Wolverine

Managing Attorney Tim Preso isn’t likely to square off against a grizzly bear—as wolverines do—but he’s figured out how to use the persistence and determination of a wolverine to keep it from going extinct in the continental United States.

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