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After Court Ruling, Wildlife Advocates Advance Efforts to Protect Wolverines

A federal court ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act when it decided not to protect the wolverine. (JohnDPorter/iStockphoto)
A federal court ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act when it decided not to protect the wolverine. (JohnDPorter/iStockphoto)
April 18, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wy. - Conservation groups are doubling down on efforts to protect wolverines after a court ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act when the agency decided not to protect the famously tough predator.

Managing attorney Tim Preso with Earthjustice says the ruling affirms the original findings by the agency's own scientists that climate change and genetic isolation threaten the species.

"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," says Preso.

U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen addressed the political pressure brought by states, including Wyoming, noting the listing decision involved "climate science, and climate science evokes strong reactions."

Unless an appeal is filed, the order means the agency must make a new listing decision. Conservation groups say they'll monitor the agency to make sure wolverines get the protections they need.

Caroline Byrd, executive director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, says after more than a century of trapping and habitat loss, wolverines in the lower 48 have been reduced to small, fragmented populations in a handful of mountain states.

She says wolverines can't reproduce without access to deep and persistent snow fields where mothers build their dens.

"We have those in the Northern Rockies, we have them in the greater Yellowstone, and they will persist on into the future," says Byrd. "But we have fewer of them because of climate change, because of our warming climate."

Byrd praised the court's decision and says the increasingly rare and elusive animal represents the wildness that is still alive today in Greater Yellowstone.

Only 300 or so wolverines are left in the Northern Rockies and North Cascades.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY