Fish and Wildlife declines to list wolverines as endangered

 

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The wolverine proposal was also out of the ordinary because these animals are not currently declining, as far as anyone knows. In addition to facing climate-related threats, wolverines were trapped and poisoned, wiping them out over much of the West in the early 20th century. Now they may even be recovering and some biologists think they could be expanding their range into places like Utah and Colorado.

While climate models predict spring snow cover loss across the wolverine’s range by the end of the century, “we don’t know that this loss of snow will equate to a commensurate loss of wolverine habitat or when it might limit wolverine populations,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe during a teleconference with reporters on Tuesday.  The problem, from the agency’s perspective, is that there’s not enough specific information about how and why wolverines choose their snowy den sites to predict how devastated their habitat will be as the Earth continues to warm.

Ashe framed the agency’s reversal as a case of two sets of scientists evaluating the same body of research and reaching different, yet reasoned, conclusions – which isn’t that unusual. But environmental groups and some scientists see the agency’s reversal as a bow to political pressure, namely from the states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, all of which opposed a listing.

“In this case the Service is using uncertainty as an excuse to override the expert judgment of its owns scientists and that’s a really bad precedent,” Shaye Wolf, climate science director for the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, said in an interview last month. CBD is one of the environmental groups involved in the legal settlement that spurred the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to propose listing wolverines last year. Nine organizations, including CBD, are now planning to challenge the listing decision in court.

Sarah Jane Keller is a High Country News correspondent based in Bozeman, Montana. She tweets @sjanekeller.

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