By Ann McCreary
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced Tuesday (Aug. 12) that it is withdrawing its proposal to list wolverines under the Endangered Species Act.
Wolverines have made a steady recovery in the past half-century after hunting, trapping and poisoning nearly extirpated the species from the lower 48 states in the early 1900s, FWS said.
“While it is clear that the climate is warming, after carefully considering the best available science, the Service has determined that the effects of climate change are not likely to place the wolverine in danger of extinction now or in the foreseeable future,” FWS said in a press release.
FWS is “bowing to political pressure,” according to a coalition of conservation groups. In a press release Tuesday, the conservation groups said they plan to challenge the wolverine listing decision with a federal lawsuit.
“Only 250 to 300 wolverines call the contiguous U.S. home, living in small populations scattered across the West,” the press release said. “Scientists unanimously acknowledge the greatest threat to the species’ survival in the U.S. is habitat loss resulting from climate change.”
The mountains of the North Cascades surrounding the Methow Valley are one of the few areas in the United States where wolverines are found. Wolverines have been the subject of an ongoing study in the area for several years.
To raise their young, wolverines rely on deep, high-elevation snow packs that last into spring and summer. Scientists largely agree climate change will increasingly affect snowfall patterns throughout wolverine range over the next 75 years and reduce available habitat by up to 63 percent, according to a release from Cascadia Wildlands.
The conservation organizations said the decision to withdraw the proposal to list wolverines as endangered goes against recommendations of the agency’s scientists, and violates federal law stating that ESA listings must be based solely on the best available science.
FWS director Dan Ashe’s decision to withdraw the listing proposal was based on consensus recommendation of the agency’s three regional directors for the regions in which wolverines live — the Mountain Prairie, Pacific Northwest and Pacific Southwest regions, the FWS release said.
FWS said that consequences of a warming planet are not as clear and measurable for the Mountain West, where differences in elevation and topography make prediction of climate impacts ambiguous.
“In this case … we simply do not know enough about the ecology of the wolverine and when or how it will be affected by a changing climate to conclude at this time that it is likely to be in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future,” Ashe said.