Judge orders U.S. Fish and Wildlife to resume protections for wolverines in the lower 48
A federal judge in Montana last week ruled wolverines in the contiguous United States need protections while the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife reconsiders its 2020 decision removing protections for the animal.
The agency had previously agreed to revisit the decision, and the court ruling requires the service to reinstate previous protections immediately.
The largest member of the weasel family, wolverines are snow-dependent and susceptible to climate change.
Populations are stable and widespread in Canada and Alaska, but only a few hundred are thought to remain in the lower 48 states. Idaho is some of their best remaining habitat according to John Robison, Public Lands Director for the Idaho Conservation League (ICL).
“This is a chance for the Fish and Wildlife Service, now that we have a level playing field, to go review the best available science and actually proceed based on the facts,” Robison said.
The ICL joined other advocacy groups in a lawsuit against the federal agency in 2020, alleging it didn’t consider the impact of a changing climate when it lifted wolverines' endangered species protections.
“The more that we do to stabilize our climate,” Robison said. “The better chance that wolverines and a host of other species are going to have moving ahead,including humans.”
A 2014 survey by Idaho Fish and Game estimated 127 wolverines in Idaho. That would be about 40% of the population in the contiguous United States today, but the animals love of remote terrain makes them difficult to count.
“The stresses that are facing Wolverines in terms of climate change, reduced snowpack [and] things like that, are also affecting humans,” Robison said. “Whether it's in agriculture or in recreation, in wildfire risks, in just having livable communities; we're all under some similar stresses.”
“The wolverine is a test case," said Joseph Vaile of southern Oregon conservation group KS Wild in a press release. "How do we protect snow-dependent species in the era of climate change?”
The ruling doesn’t add wolverines back onto the endangered species list but does reinstate the need for agencies like the forest service to consider the impact land use decisions have on the animal.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife is expected to open a public comment period on the issue before making a final determination in the next 18 months.