Seeking to ensure a future for one of the rarest wilderness wildlife species in the lower-48 states, a coalition of conservation groups (see header) today filed a lawsuit asking a Federal District Court in Missoula, Montana, to compel the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider new legal protections for the wolverine.
The groups submitted a petition to the Service in July 2000 asking that the wolverine be added to the endangered and threatened species list under the Endangered Species Act. Despite the Act’s requirement that the Service make a preliminary finding on the petition at the latest within one year of submission, to date the Service has failed to take any action while threats to the wolverine have mounted.
“The wolverine doesn’t have time to tolerate further inaction by the Service,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who is representing the groups in the lawsuit. “The law requires the Service to review the petition promptly and make a decision. It’s a shame we have to go to court just to make them read it.”
“This is but the latest example of the Bush Administration’s contempt for the legal requirements of the Endangered Species Act,” added Mike Senatore of Defenders of Wildlife. “Lack of money is no excuse particularly given that this administration has refused to even request adequate funding.”
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. Wolverine denning habitat in high alpine basins is under a growing onslaught from expanding snowmobiling and helicopter skiing recreation. And the wolverine’s wilderness habitat continues to be chipped away by logging, mining and associated roadbuilding.
“A lot of scientific information has recently emerged to indicate that the wolverine is in trouble – we just need the Service to pay attention to it,” said David Gaillard of Predator Conservation Alliance. “The Endangered Species Act is the best tool we have to ensure that the wolverine does not fade away into myth and legend, but remains a living, breathing, snarling component of our precious natural heritage.”