Victory! ESA Protection for Wolverine

After years of litigation and delay, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on February 1, 2013, released its proposed rule to federally protect wolverine under the Endangered Species Act. However, the agency's proposal falls short of what is necessary to protect (and recover) the species from going extinct.

On May 1, 2013, WELC called on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to provide greater protections for the wolverine, the rarest carnivore in the Lower 48. WELC’s comments, signed by 26 conservation groups from across the wolverine’s range in the West, were submitted as part of the public comment process on the Service’s proposed rule. A final rule is expected no later than August 4, 2014.

The Service, in response to a court ordered deadline, proposes to list wolverine as a “threatened” species under the ESA due primarily to the loss of habitat and increased habitat fragmentation from climate change (wolverine depend on late spring snow). Additional threats to the species include an exceptionally small and vulnerable population size in the Lower 48 – where the entire population is no more than 250-300 individuals – and mortality from trapping.

WELC’s comments identify a number of specific concerns with the Service’s proposed rule. These include: (1) the determination that wolverines do not qualify for the more protective “endangered” status – only “threatened” status; (2) the exemption of potential non-climate stressors on wolverine, including habitat loss or disruption from motorized recreational activities (e.g. winter snowmobiling), logging, and infrastructure development, from regulation under the ESA; and (3) the decision to delay designating critical habitat.

On August 12, 2014, FWS, bowing to political pressure, published a notice in the Federal Register announcing its decision to withdraw the proposed rule to list wolverine as a threatened species under the ESA and its finding that wolverine are not warranted for listing as an endangered or threatened species, against the advice of its own biologists.

That next day, WELC, on behalf of our allies, filed a notice on intent to sue the federal government to reverse the FWS decision and protect the rare wolverine from extinction.

UPDATE: VICTORY!! On April 4, 2016, the federal district court for Montana rejected a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to deny protections for wolverines in the contiguous U.S. The court ruled the Service improperly ignored science and violated the Endangered Species Act. Now, the Service must reconsider its decision not to list wolverine under the ESA, with consideration for the best available science.