The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released a court ordered decision denying protection under the Endangered Species Act for the wolverine. Despite important new evidence that the wolverine is in desperate straits, the agency declared for the second time that it will do nothing to assist the rare creature.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said that wolverines in the lower 48 states are ineligible to be considered threatened or endangered because they are not separate from wolverine populations in Canada and Alaska.
“This is yet another example of the Bush administration putting politics ahead of science and denying protection to a rare species that is facing a number of immediate threats,” said Tim Preso of Earthjustice. “The evidence that the wolverine is in trouble is striking, and we will be examining this new finding very carefully and will take every appropriate step to ensure much-needed protections for the wolverine.”
Wolverines are threatened by the isolation of their populations, trapping (which is still legal in Montana), and the disturbance of denning areas by snowmobiles and other recreational activities. The wolverine exists at extremely low numbers and reproduces very slowly, resulting in populations that are particularly vulnerable to these threats, especially females.
New scientific evidence indicates that maintaining a stable wolverine population requires providing two acres of protected wolverine habitat for every acre of habitat where trapping occurs — i.e., a 2:1 ratio. However, a recent study in Montana documented a 1:9 ratio of protected vs. trapped wolverine habitat in that state. Consistent with this analysis, another recent study of a wolverine population in the Pioneer Mountains of western Montana indicated a 30 percent annual decline due to trapping mortality.
“The evidence shows that there are simply too few wolverines left to continue trapping, yet the federal agency responsible for protecting rare wildlife has elected to do nothing in the face of this information.” said David Gaillard of Defenders of Wildlife.
The growing body of evidence documenting the wolverine’s uncertain future includes new scientific evidence raising concerns about the effects of global warming and continued trapping on wolverines.
“What we know about wolverines is that females select reproductive den sites only in areas that retain snow until late spring, and due to global warming, there will be far fewer such places in the northern Rockies,” said Gaillard. “The wolverine was in bad shape eight years ago; with global warming upon us, its plight is even more dire now.”
The wolverine, the largest member of the weasel family, once roamed across the northern tier of the U.S. and as far south as New Mexico in the Rockies and southern California in the Sierra Nevada. After centuries of trapping, habitat loss, and disturbance, wolverines have been reduced to small, fragmented populations in Idaho, Wyoming, Washington state, and Montana.
In 2000, a coalition of conservation groups including Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Clearwater, and Conservation Northwest petitioned Fish and Wildlife to list the wolverine as a protected species under the Endangered Species Act. The agency refused to do so in spite of significant evidence even then that the wolverine was in trouble. It took a court order to get the evidence reviewed and still the Fish and Wildlife Service refused to list the wolverine. The groups sued a second time, and the court gave the agency a year to review new scientific information regarding the wolverine and render a new decision. Today’s announcement is the result.