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Wolverines May Get a Second Chance in the Northwest

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may have to reconsider its decision not to list the wolverine as an endangered species, in light of a recent court ruling. (Conservation Northwest Citizens Wildlife Monitoring Project)
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may have to reconsider its decision not to list the wolverine as an endangered species, in light of a recent court ruling. (Conservation Northwest Citizens Wildlife Monitoring Project)
April 14, 2016

BOISE, Idaho - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is denying claims that it ignored the science and used political considerations when it decided not to list the wolverine as an endangered species. Several conservation groups had sued the agency, and last week a judge ruled that Fish and Wildlife has to reconsider its decision not to grant endangered species status to the largest member of the weasel family.

Attorney Tim Preso, managing attorney with the Northern Rockies office of the law firm Earthjustice, said the Service's own scientists recommended the wolverine be protected, because there are only about 300 left, and their snowy habitat is melting away because of climate change.

"But after a campaign of opposition by affected state governments, the Fish and Wildlife Service backed down and withdrew its proposal to protect the species," he said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service issued a statement acknowledging that wolverines need deep snow to create their dens. However, they added, "while climate change is occurring, it was not causing the wolverine to be threatened or endangered now nor in the foreseeable future."

In Idaho, wolverines range from the Sawtooths through the Bitterroots up to the Canadian border. They also are present in Montana, Wyoming and Washington state.

Gary Macfarlane, ecosystem defense director for Friends of the Clearwater, thinks the agency disregarded clear evidence that the animals should be protected.

"It appears to be politics rather than looking at science," he said. "I think there's a general tension probably between the state and federal government regarding wildlife in some of these western states."

Caroline Byrd, executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, said it would be a terrible shame to let the wolverines die out in the lower 48 states.

"They're an incredibly rare and elusive and wild creature," she said. "They symbolize the wildness of the Northern Rockies as well as any other species we've got out there."

The Fish and Wildlife Service has not decided whether to appeal the ruling or comply and reconsider the listing.

The court's full ruling can be downloaded here.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - ID