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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

Once widespread across the northern states, wolverine populations today remain only in isolated patches of alpine habitat in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Washington. This largest terrestrial member of the weasel family is generally intolerant of human disturbance in its habitat. Its presence in an area signifies untrammeled, uncompromised wilderness. As a snow-dependent species, the wolverine is especially vulnerable to warming conditions brought on by climate change. The best data available suggests there are fewer than 300 animals across the entire western U.S., with only 35 individuals—just a tenth of the population—successfully breeding.

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

In October 2006, a federal judge agreed with us that the FWS wrongly rejected scientific information regarding the wolverine that "shows a dramatic loss in range, the tangible decrease in population with the commensurate threat of genetic isolation of subpopulations, and the threat posed by human encroachment on wolverines."

In July 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it will determine whether wolverines deserve full protection of the Endangered Species Act by 2013.

In February 2013, the Service announced its proposal to list the wolverine in the lower-48 states as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. If finalized, the move will focus new resources on wolverine recovery and take steps to help the species survive the impacts of climate change. The proposal resulted from more than a decade of consistent pressure from several conservation groups, including three separate legal actions taken to secure an ESA listing.

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.

February 14, 2013 | Feature

Keeping the Wolverine Wild

After more than a decade of litigation, the federal government has finally proposed to protect wolverines as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Down to Earth speaks with Douglas H. Chadwick, a wildlife biologist and journalist who wrote the book The Wolverine Way.

February 7, 2013 | In the News: National Parks Traveler

Wolverine proposed for listing as a threatened species

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed federal protections for wolverines in the Rocky Mountains in anticipation of severe habitat loss due to climate change, which could melt enough snow and ice to make two thirds of their current habitat uninhabitable. Wolverines in the United States are already rare and warrant federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

February 5, 2013 | Blog Post

Attorney Persevered Like A Wolverine To Protect Them

Last Friday, the federal government proposed to protect wolverines as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Wolverines are the biggest member of the weasel, mink, marten and otter family, but they don’t act like good family members—they are loners who cover huge ranges usually high in mountain ranges above tree line up in the rock, ice and snow.

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