Not enough evidence of climate harm to list wolverines, says Fish and Wildlife
Climate change is a real force disrupting wildlife populations. But for the 300 or so wolverines living in the lower 48, there’s still not enough evidence of present or future danger to protect them under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday.
In February 2013, the agency proposed to list wolverines as threatened because climate change is eating away at spring snowpack in the northern Rockies, which in turn will harm wolverines since they raise their young in snowy dens. After more than a year of analysis, the agency officially withdrew its proposal this week.
It’s an important listing decision, not only for dictating future wolverine management, but also for gauging the Fish and Wildlife Service’s tolerance for using climate models to list species.
Most ESA listings result from threats that are already happening, such as habitat loss from human development. But the proposal to list wolverines was based largely on predictions of how future snowpack will shrink in their high-alpine denning regions. While the agency has always used ecological models to evaluate risks to sensitive species, climate predictions that play into the wolverine proposal add yet another layer of uncertainty.
Listing decisions based primarily on the threats of climate change also attract a new level of scrutiny since there have been so few. Thus far, polar bears, ringed seals and bearded seals are the only species listings primarily based on warming threats to their habitat.
If Tuesday’s decision is any indication, the challenge of predicting highly specific, small-scale climate impacts may prove a major roadblock to endangered species protection for other animals as well. For example, a judge in Alaska recently ruled that bearded seals, which were considered threatened because of melting sea ice, should not have been listed.