Feds: Wolverines need protection but have to wait
By MATT VOLZ
HELENA, Mont. (AP) – The threat of climate change warrants
classifying wolverines as threatened or endangered, but other
species are in more imminent danger and will delay protection for
the small, ferocious mammals, wildlife officials said Monday.
The population of wolverines in the contiguous United States has
rebounded to an estimated 250 to 300 since the early 20th century,
when predator control in the West nearly wiped them out, the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service said in its report.
But their resurgence may be short-lived.
Wolverines need adequate spring snow cover to reproduce, but
warmer winter temperatures are reducing the snow pack in the West,
making climate change the “primary threat to the wolverine
population,” the report said.
Environmental models project the wolverines’ habitat will shrink
by roughly a quarter by 2045 and nearly two-thirds by 2099, agency
wildlife biologist Shawn Sartorius said.
That means the animals will not be added to the federal Lists of
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. Instead, it will
join the sage grouse, plains bison and hundreds of other species on
a candidate species list awaiting federal protection.
The length of time the wolverine remains on the candidate list
depends on the species ahead of it and when funding would be
available to add it to the endangered and threatened species list,
Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Diane Katzenberger said.
The wolverine is one of a handful species the federal government
says needs protection because of the effects of climate change on
habitat. Most recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration cited the loss of ice from climate change as a basis
for proposing that ringed and bearded seals be listed as a
Conservation groups petitioned the federal government to protect
the wolverine in 1995 and again in 2000. Two years ago, the agency
found the wolverine was not eligible for listing under the federal
Endangered Species Act because it did not constitute a distinct
Conservationists sued, and last year the agency agreed to study
the matter again. This time, the agency found the population within
the contiguous U.S. was distinct and warranted protection.
Tim Preso, an attorney with Earthjustice, told The Associated
Press the new finding is a breakthrough that reverses past denials
by the federal government that the wolverine faces the threat of
However, the wolverine will now be mired in a backlog of other
species waiting to receive federal protection, he said.
“If history is any guide, it takes a very long time for any
action to be taken on this backlog,” Preso said. “It’s like being
stuck in the waiting room of a hospital when you’re in need of
Wolverines likely exist as a network of semi-isolated
populations, and they require gene flow between groups to support
each other and prevent individual populations from going extinct.
If that dynamic breaks down, the entire population could be
jeopardized, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.
Global warming will threaten that breakdown, the agency
The reduced snow pack means the cover suitable for wolverines is
shrinking, and the distance between the semi-isolated populations
is growing, making it more difficult for the wolverine groups to
exchange genes, the report states.
The wolverine has a broader range in Canada and Alaska,
territory separate from the newly designated distinct population
segment in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Wyoming, Colorado, Oregon,
Utah and California.
In Canada, wolverines are considered endangered in the eastern
part of the country and a species of special concern in the western
part of the nation.