In an effort to save one of the rarest wilderness wildlife species in the lower-48 states, four conservation groups today filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to overturn the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's refusal to consider new legal protections for the wolverine.
"Everything we know about the wolverine tells us that this species is under siege from trapping in Montana and habitat disruption throughout its entire range," said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who is representing the groups in the lawsuit. "We shouldn't wait until the last few wolverines are trapped before we take action to protect this rare species."
The largest member of the weasel family, the wolverine is a bear-cub-sized forest predator that persists in small numbers in the last remaining big wilderness areas of the lower-48 states. The powerful wolverine once ranged across the northernmost states from Maine to Washington, and south into the Adirondacks of New York, the Rocky Mountains as far south as Arizona and New Mexico, and the Sierra Nevada, Cascade, and Siskiyou Mountains as far south as California. Although sporadic, unconfirmed wolverine reports continue in Oregon and California, today the wolverine is known to exist only in the northern Cascades of Washington and the Rocky Mountains of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.
There, the remaining wolverines face growing threats. Despite their scarcity, wolverines continue to be lawfully trapped under Montana state law. Expanding snowmobiling and helicopter skiing are crowding wolverine denning habitat in high alpine basins. And the wolverine's wilderness habitat continues to be chipped away by logging, mining, and associated roadbuilding.
Recognizing these threats, the groups submitted a petition to the Service in July 2000 asking that the wolverine be added to the Endangered Species Act's list of endangered and threatened species. However, in October 2003 the Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the groups' request for a full scientific review of the wolverine's status, which is the first step in the listing process, citing a lack of conclusive data.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service under the Bush administration decided that it didn't want to list the wolverine under the Endangered Species Act, and has done everything it can to avoid facing the science indicating that this animal is in danger," said Mike Senatore of Defenders of Wildlife. "If we don't act now, today's generations may see the last days for the wolverine in the lower-48 states."
"A lot of scientific information has recently emerged to indicate that the wolverine is in trouble -- we just need the federal government to pay attention to it," added Joseph Vaile of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. "The Endangered Species Act is the best tool we have to ensure that the wolverine does not fade into myth and legend, but remains a component of our natural heritage."
Earthjustice is representing Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Clearwater, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Northwest Ecosystem Alliance.