The North American wolverine found in mountain habitats including the North Cascades does not warrant federal Endangered Species Act protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week.
“New research and analysis show that wolverine populations in the American Northwest remain stable, and individuals are moving across the Canadian border in both directions and returning to former territories,” a Fish and Wildlife Service news release states.
The agency says its finding is based on research in areas including Washington’s North Cascades, where some elusive wolverines have been monitored using tracking devices as well as photographed in their habitat.
Those kinds of efforts, done in partnership between state wildlife agencies, nonprofit conservation groups and tribes, are the best way to continue managing the species, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Conservation groups working to protect the wolverine — a large relative of the weasel that resembles a small bear with a bushy tail — disagree.
“This appalling decision puts wolverines on the path to extinction,” Center for Biological Diversity attorney Andrea Zaccardi said in a statement to the Skagit Valley Herald. “By refusing to provide life-saving protections to these extraordinary animals, the federal government once again ignores climate change science.”
The Center for Biological Diversity has been fighting for protection of wolverines since 1994. About 300 wolverines are estimated to remain in the wild and the species depends on mountain snow while raising its young.
Others involved in the longtime legal battle include Earthjustice, Defenders of Wildlife and Conservation Northwest, which has helped study the wolverines remaining in the North Cascades.
“Wolverine are rare, wide-ranging carnivores of the high wild country facing growing threats from climate change and winter recreation,” Conservation Northwest’s Dave Werntz said in a news release. “Wolverines deserve federal protection and the associated resources and recovery actions to ensure a future for wolverine in the Pacific Northwest.”
Zaccardi said the Center for Biological Diversity plans to continue the fight.
“We have been fighting for the wolverine to gain federal protections for decades and are not about to stop now,” she said.
Listing wolverines as threatened or endangered would trigger new conservation efforts to ensure they remain a part of mountain ecosystems in the West.
“Recent scientific information makes clear that wolverines face threats from destruction of their snowy habitat due to climate change,” Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso said in a news release. “We intend to take action to make sure that the administration’s disregard of the real impacts of climate change does not doom the wolverine to extinction.”
The wolverine once roamed habitat throughout the Cascades, Rockies and Sierra Nevada, but because of trapping was brought to near extinction by the early 1900s. Small populations remain in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
The Fish and Wildlife Service says its decision was made after reviewing recent science, including that in a species status assessment published in 2018.
The federal agency proposed in 2013 to list the wolverine as threatened because of climate change impacts to snowpack, but then withdrew that proposal in 2014. The Center for Biological Diversity sued over that in 2016.
The Center for Biological Diversity then filed a lawsuit in March seeking to force the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a final decision on whether the listing proposed in 2013 was warranted.