"Warranted, but precluded"

 

Polar bearsWalrus. Ringed and bearded seals. And now wolverines have joined the list of northern animals threatened by warming winters and shrinking snow and ice packs.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the bear in 2008 and is considering adding the walrus and the seals. This week, the agency announced that while listing the wolverine is justified, mostly because of the projected effects of climate change, budget restrictions and the needs of more urgently-threatened species will prevent it from actually adding Gulo gulo to the endangered species roster. It now joins roughly 250 other species on the "candidate" list, and even there its priority isn't high -- on a scale of 1 to 12, where 1 is highest priority, the agency assigned the wolverine a 6. Gunnison sage grouse rate a 2 on that list.

(click cartoon to view full-screen)

The "warranted but precluded" finding is a step forward, though, say conservationists: FWS has previously declined even wait-listing wolverines three times since 1994.

The Northern Rockies are home to perhaps 200 wolverines, said FWS biologist Shawn Sartorius during a Dec. 13 press conference. Another 10 or so roam the North Cascades. And there's one in the Sierra Nevada, and one in western Colorado (as of two weeks ago, his radio collar signal indicated the lone male was still kicking). Canada and Alaska have robust wolverine populations, though -- and that's what prevented the carnivores from being listed previously. However, wolves and grizzlies also have healthy Canadian and Alaskan populations but are on the endangered species list in the lower 48; now, the FWS has finally applied the same reasoning to wolverines, considering those in the contiguous U.S. as a (PDF) distinct population segment deserving of protection.

Wolverines depend on cold conditions and deep spring snow cover to successfully den and raise young, said Sartorius. But climate change, as it warms winters and decreases snowpack, will shrink the wolverine's suitable habitat into smaller, more scattered pockets. Secondary threats to the animals include Montana's  wolverine trapping season and winter recreation such as snowmobiling and cross-country skiing, which disturbs them.

The efforts of the Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative (PDF), an alliance of federal, state, tribal and NGO partners, may help those isolated wolverine populations remain in contact, said Steve Gurtin, regional director of the FWS's Mountain-Prairie Region. The alliance, announced last spring, will work on habitat connectivity and corridors in the northern Rockies and Columbia Basin.

Startlingly little is known about wolverines, said Sartorius, and the agency plans to support additional research. "We'll use science to help us move forward and guide our long-term strategies," he said, "and we'll evaluate the wolverine's status each year to see if it should move up or down (on the priority list)." He noted that "there is no adequate regulatory mechanism to address the main threat to wolverines: climate change."

For more of HCN's wolverine coverage, see these stories and blog posts:

Would listing the wolverine even help?

Wolverine: Chasing the phantom

The perils of secrecy

Secret life of wolverines

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking two full time community organizers to join our team. Positions can be based in Garfield County, Montrose...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Join our team as the Association's Executive Director. Working closely with the Board of Directors, take ANWS to the next level of professionalism by managing...
  • FRIENDS OF CEDAR MESA DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Friends of Cedar Mesa is hiring a Development Director who will have the overall responsibilities of leading our fundraising programs and reports directly to our...
  • WATER RIGHTS/ADJUDICATION BUREAU CHIEF
    Job Overview: Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that Montana's land and water resources provide benefits for present and future...
  • CLIMATE CHANGE COORDINATOR
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition is seeking a Climate Change Coordinator to play a lead role in shaping our programs to make the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Position Announcement POSITION TITLE: Executive Director ORGANIZATION: Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument REPORTING TO: Board of Directors EMPLOYMENT TYPE: Part-time - Full-time, based...
  • HEALTHY CITIES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Healthy Cities Program Director leads and manages the Healthy Cities Program for the Arizona Chapter and is responsible for developing and implementing innovative, high...
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Conservation Programs Manager Job Opening Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Associate Director Job Posting Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through science,...
  • UNIQUE, ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOME ON ACREAGE NEAR MOSCOW, IDAHO
    Custom-built energy-efficient 3000 sqft two-story 3BR home, 900 sqft 1 BR accessory cottage above 2-car garage and large shop. Large horse barn. $1,200,000. See online...
  • OUTDOOR ADVENTURE BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures (MOLA) - established and profitable outdoor adventure & education business in Missoula, Montana. Summer camp, raft & climb guide, teen travel,...
  • OJO SARCO FARM/HOME
    A wonderful country setting for a farm/work 1350s.f. frame home plus 1000 studio/workshop. 5 acres w fruit trees, an irrigation well, pasture and a small...
  • STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for people and wildlife. Skagit Land...
  • 2022 SEASONAL SCIENCE EDUCATOR
    The Mount St. Helens Institute Science Educator supports our science education and rental programs including day and overnight programs for youth ages 6-18, their families...
  • POLICY DIRECTOR
    Heart of the Rockies Initiative is seeking a Policy Director to lead and define policy efforts to advance our mission to keep working lands and...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Self-Help Enterprises seeks an experienced and strategic CFO
  • CONSERVATION SPECIALIST - LAND PROTECTION FOCUS
    View full job description and how to apply at
  • RIVER EDUCATOR & GUIDE
    River Educator & Guide River Educator & Guide (Trip Leader) Non-exempt, Seasonal Position: Full-time OR part-time (early April through October; may be flexible with start/end...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • FOOD SYSTEMS ENVIRONMENTAL FELLOWSHIP
    If you were to design a sustainable society from the ground up, it would look nothing like the contemporary United States. But what would it...