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Idaho plans to sue over federal wolverine protections

wolverine
National Park Service
Idaho says federal protections announced for the wolverine in November are "unlawful."

Idaho announced it plans to sue the federal government if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t reverse its decision to list the wolverine as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The Idaho Governor’s Office of Species Conservation (OSC) filed the intent to sue on Jan. 26, arguing listing the wolverine in the contiguous U.S. was “unlawful” and “exemplifies poor conservation policy.”

The state called the designation of these wolverines as a distinct species “arbitrary,” thereby stressing they’re ineligible for ESA protections.

“The wolverine population in the lower 48 isn’t separate from the one in Canada – they’re connected,” said Joshua Uriarte, a species program manager and policy advisor for OSC.

The USFWS decision pointed to studies showing poor genetic diversity in populations spanning the U.S.-Canada border, and found that large highways in British Columbia are making it difficult for females to move into the U.S.

Habitat degradation and fragmentation were two key issues it cited when announcing that protections were warranted for roughly 300 wolverines in the lower 48 states. Also central to the decision was the “current and increasing impacts of climate change.”

The rare carnivores den in high-elevation snowpack and depend on spring snow, in particular, for food and reproduction. The federal agency projected snow loss in 2050 and 2100 and found declines in spring snow due to climate change are “likely.”

But in its notice to federal officials, Idaho argued this isn’t settled science, saying USFWS “appears to have improperly relied on a combination of highly uncertain, often speculative end-of-century threat conditions and potential wolverine population responses.”

“They're guessing out too far,” Uriarte said. He also said wolverines have been spotted throughout their historic range in Idaho.

A draft wildlife management plan by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game considers the wolverine a conservation success story, though the state also calls it a species of “greatest conservation need.”

Jeff Abrams, the wildlife program associate at the Idaho Conservation League, said Idaho’s position that climate change is not affecting wolverines is “untenable.”

“The preponderance of climate science that says there's going to be shallower snowpack, there's going to be warmer temperatures,” he said.

Abrams argued wolverines could’ve even been eligible for listing as “endangered” under the ESA.

“Given the tiny population size,” he said, “given all the threats that they’re facing, given the current lax regulations in trapping that could cause serious harm to the tiny number of individuals that we do still have.”

Conservation groups worry that an interim rule included in the USFWS decision, which allows for incidental killing of wolverines such as through legal trapping of other species, could have an impact in Idaho where wolf trapping opportunities have expanded.

Trapping and hunting wolverines is not allowed in Idaho, and the state thinks the trapping of other animals won’t affect them.

According to Idaho Fish and Game, 17 wolverines have been confirmed to have been caught in traps over 43 years, 8 of which were released alive.

Idaho is asking the USFWS to reverse its listing decision within 60 days. Montana also sent a similar notice to sue over wolverine protections last week.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.

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