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Fish and Wildlife Decision: Wolverines Scarce, Not "Threatened"

PHOTO: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided that the wolverine will not be listed under the Endangered Species Act. About 300 animals exist in the United States, mainly in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service
PHOTO: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided that the wolverine will not be listed under the Endangered Species Act. About 300 animals exist in the United States, mainly in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service
August 13, 2014

MISSOULA, Mont. - A decision on whether wolverines should be considered "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act took 14 years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided the animals are not imperiled, citing uncertainty about the ecology of the wolverine.

Wolverines are found mainly in areas that receive deep, late-season snow in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington. Kylie Paul, who has been researching wolverines for several years at Defenders of Wildlife, said wolverines are clearly at risk of extinction - and climate change is part of the problem.

"If we're not willing to protect a species that has only 250 to 300 individuals," she said, "one of the rarest mammals in the Lower 48, how imperiled does a species have to get to get federal protection?"

While there may be up to 300 animals, Paul said their reproduction rates are low and it's estimated that only a few dozen females are able to reproduce each year. Wolverines do survive in higher numbers in Canada.

Paul said wolverines have declined not just because of changing snowpack levels and timing but also because of trapping, loud winter recreation and habitat degradation.

"They're just this amazing, tenacious animal," she said. "This native species that we have - it will be on its way out within our lifetime. They need to be able to withstand these issues that face them, now and in the future."

Wildlife organizations including Defenders requested ESA listing for wolverines in 2000. Fish and Wildlife proposed listing the species as "threatened" last year, mainly because of climate change, but reversed that stance Tuesday.

Details of the decision are online at fws.gov.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT