U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can’t let the rare carnivore just languish as a candidate endangered species-

Dana Christensen, a Montana federal district court judge has denied the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s (“the Service”) motion to dismiss a conservationist lawsuit that asks for a prompt decision to give endangered species protection for the wolverine.

The Service had ruled  in 2010 that it believes the wolverine merits protection under the ESA but that it has higher priorities than the wolverine. This, they ruled, precludes current action to protect the wolverine. The judge didn’t buy the Service’s argument to let the matter drag on like this. The court told the Service to make a decision by January 18th, 2013 or the case will move forward.

Action to protect the wolverine has become more critical because the State of Montana allows 5 wolverine to be a trapped a year. Other states don’t have a season, but expanded trapping, as part of “the wolf hunt” in Idaho and Montana, threatens to add accidentally trapped wolverine to the annual death toll.

“The best available science says the minimum effective population size needs to be 50, yet the combined effective population in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming is 35. The ‘warranted but precluded decision’ never analyzed how the State of Montana’s trapping program allows that number to continue to be reduced,” said John Meyer, attorney for the organizations. The lawsuit is filed by the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center, Footloose Montana, and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance.

Due to lack of monetary resources, the Service issues quite a few “warranted-but-precluded” decisions on proposed endangered species, but telling Montana it cannot continue a trapping season on wolverines would likely take few, if any, resources.

About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

45 Responses to Judge in Montana tells Feds to make a decision on ESA protection for wolverine

  1. Ida Lupine says:

    The best available science says the minimum effective population size needs to 50, yet the combined effective population in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming is 35.

    And they can still be trapped. What are the Feds waiting for? I didn’t realize the situation was this desperate. I can’t wait for the outcry of “depredation of livestock” human hunting taking preference, or some such bunk.

  2. Barb Rupers says:

    Perhaps Montana will reconsider its allowed wolverine take by trapping; Idaho and Montana should not allow trapping of fur bearers, including wolves, in wolverine or lynx habitat.

    • Rancher Bob says:

      Don’t you think that stopping trapping is the more true point of the lawsuit, it’s been 12 years since USFWS said wolverines merited protection. Twelve years at 5 wolverines a year. Now all of a sudden these group are concerned. Over lap a habitat map for wolves, wolverines,and lynx, wow. Maybe they should have spent some time on the wolverine instead of the wolf?

      • Barb Rupers says:

        It is not all of a sudden that groups concerned with wolverine conservation have spoken up or taken action. I do not know how many wolverines have been trapped in Montana in the past 12 years but at 5 per year that could amount to 60 which is, considering there longevity, low reproductive rate and current population, quite a take.

        Why should any wolves, wolverines, lynx, bears, cougars, or other fur bearers be hunted or trapped in any designated wilderness areas?

      • Mike says:

        “all of a sudden”?

        Did you just wake up from a twelve year power nap?

      • Larry Keeney says:

        In my mind stopping trapping is the true point. And what a marvelous way to get the job done!

  3. SEAK Mossback says:

    If there really are at about 35 in three states, that’s a pretty low number given the isolated nature of some of the mountain ranges in Montana. There are about 5 annually (the entire Montana limit), and up to 7, trapped out of one icefield-bound drainage just past the north end of our road system and researchers have caught and collared additional ones to those in the same area. The key there, however, is habitat connectivity as it backs against vast unroaded lands in Canada and along the coast range, and wolverines seem to have no problem crossing extreme mountainous terrain and rivers. One of the collared ones was later trapped on the Iskut River about 150 miles southeast. However, they have found some animals to have relatively small home ranges within the drainage.

  4. Mike says:

    Montana should be embarrassed about their trapping season. The hook and bullet crowd continues to do real damage to the wildlife heritage.

    • RobertR says:

      I believe Montana trappers only took two wolverines last year.
      The wolverine should be a speicies of concern but trapping is not the only factor for low populations. I climate change contributes more than trapping.

      Mike your against hunting and hunters and now your including fishing give me a brake.
      I must be reading Montana’s wildlife timeline wrong and misunderstanding the Pittman Robertson Act. History is telling me hunters and fisherman has helped with the majority of wildlife restoration. I guess when I buy outdoors equipment or guns I know where my money is going and what it’s supporting, I wonder If the PRA has anything to do with that.

      • Mike says:

        “Only” two wolverines when there might be 35 in the lower 48?

        I’d suggest checking out a little thing called “context”.

        Hunters had nothing to do with helping wolverines. In fact, they helped wiped them out.

  5. Carter Niemeyer says:

    It is my prediction that increasing the number of large traps and snares in the mountains along with attractants and baits used to attract wolves that non-target take of several species of animals including ungulates, fishers, and wolverines will be going up. I don’t think people realize the size of traps that are allowable to capture wolves. Non-targets are not going to escape. Wolverines will be caught even without a legal trapping season. I have been a trapper most of my life but I don’t support the trapping of wolverines in the lower 48.

    • Immer Treue says:

      Herein lies the problem with trapping, the “take” of non- target animals as well as pets, is indiscriminate. If said trap or snare kills a non-target species, is this really any different than poaching?

      Carter, with respect while you may still be around, I have no ambition to interfere with trapping operations, but if I or any other dog owner has a dog the wanders into a snare, in thick woods my dog is always in site, what type of wire/cable cutters would be advisable to bring along, as MN now has trapping season for wolves. MN hunting trapping handbook has instructions for saving dog from conibear traps, but nothing about snares.


      • SAP says:

        If you go to some of the trapping company online catalogs, you can see what diameter of cable they’re selling for snares:


        Biggest cable they’re stocking is 1/8″ diameter, which is pretty heavy. Probably heavier than most will need or use, but that may be the benchmark.

        Just to experiment, I just tried out my Klein side-cutting pliers on some 3/16″ scrap cable I have in the shop. These are 9″ pliers, high quality steel, though not brand new. It takes several “chomps” an a lot of effort to get through that 3/16″ cable. It’s substantially bigger than 1/8″, and it’s unlikely you’ll encounter even 1/8″, but who knows.

        If you really want to be sure you can cut most any cable you might encounter, I would spend $45 on these:


        You can get them on Ebay, Amazon, or from Home Depot. They’ll go right through 1/8″ cable. Cutting something in a hurry, with a struggling animal involved, necessitates a high quality tool that works well. I can’t recommend anything besides Knipex or Klein brand.

        Knipex even specifies what diameters of various materials their tools will cut. Good stuff.

        Also, for the Conibear (body-grip) traps, you can open them up with a stout leash or cord (bring about 10′). If you really think you’ll encounter them, I’d try this tool:


        • Mike says:

          Yeah your handy Leathermen multi-tool won’t cut it for this type of work.


          • jon says:

            Idaho fish and game are putting pets and non-target wildlife at risk just to kill wolves. There is something very wrong with this picture?

        • Immer Treue says:


          Thanks. Got an aquaintence in the DNR, but have no idea when I’ll see him. As this is all new in MN, I’d much rather err on the side of caution.

          Also, I don’t quite know how it would be perceived walking into a DNR office with the same question I posed here. As many folks who would like to trap wolves, there are more that are appalled at the idea.

          The thought of skiing in the BWACW and have your dog get caught in a snare is more appalling.

          • Louise Kane says:

            The thought of seeing any animal in a trap or snare is appalling…domesticated or not. Wolves, German Shepherds, Akitas….Wolves and other animals suffer the same way but no one wil be coming to possibly free them. The thought of it makes me loose sleep, constantly.

            • Ida Lupine says:

              Ever since the delising I have had a few less than peaceful nights’ sleep too. 🙁

      • Carter Niemeyer says:

        I would recommend HIT cable cutters that you can find on-line – 7-1/2″ Wire Rope Cutter w/ Aluminum Handle that sell for around $30.00. These cutters are about the size of a pair of plier and make short work of cable up to 5/8″ and perhaps larger. Compact, sharp and handy. Anyone going into the mountains these days with snares hanging in the brush should pack a pair of them.

  6. StoneandTimber says:

    isn’t it appalling that when we go into the public forests we have to be concerned with bringing the right size wire cutters to save our companions from man’s indiscriminate traps? These are public lands why shouldn’t the burden of safety be on those that set the traps? Have a requirement they hire a “trap watcher” to stay with each trap they set 24/7.

  7. Carter Niemeyer says:

    The standard size of cable used to snare wolves will be the 1/8″ cable. The cable may be the limp, flexible type or the rigid steel cable. Standard size coyote snares are constructed of 3/32″ cable which is too light for holding wolves in many instances. The 3/32″ can twist off and break near the snare keeper and wolves can easily bite through 3/32″ as well as 1/8″ in some cases. In any event, the HIT cable cutters will make short work of the cable and snips it cleanly each and every time unlike your standard “wire” cutters or side cutters that most people use in their shops which are not designed to cut cable.

    • SAP says:

      Thanks for clarifying those snare specs. A good pair of wire rope cutters makes sense.

      Folks, make sure you’re getting WIRE ROPE CUTTERS. There are many tools called “cable cutters” that are for cutting softer cables like copper or aluminum. You need something that will go through steel.

      Also, get some little bells for your dogs’ collars. It helps you keep track of where they are in the woods, a good thing all around. And if your dog, Heaven forfend, did get in a neck snare, it make not be able to vocalize but you will still likely hear that bell.

      Man oh man, do I hate having to think about this kind of thing.

  8. Carter Niemeyer says:

    Pardon me for chiming in again but several of the trap brands and sizes used for wolves by private trappers (and state agencies now) are not the long spring traps that federal and state biologists have used for trapping and radio collaring wolves in the past. Trappers are going for the coil-spring traps that have very short springs that barely protrude and next to impossible for people to open without special extension tools (cheaters) sold by the trap manufacturers or sales companies. I would venture to say that without hard-soled boots and some hefty body weight and lacking these setting tools, the average man couldn’t open them very easy or at all. Sorry for the bad news.

  9. Carter Niemeyer says:

    Traps and snares aside, don’t forget to shield your hands, body and face from whatever you are releasing including your dog. Even your beloved pet may be terrified and bite you in panic, especially when caught in a foothold trap. You need to cover their head with a jacket. Any wild animal (which are illegal to release from someone’s trap or snare) that you try to release will definitely do you bodily harm if you try and release it whether biting you or, in the case of an ungulate, kicking the hell out of you. Be careful.

    • Immer Treue says:


      Thanks for the information. Better to be prepared than a possible statistic. A shame it’s come to that.

  10. RobertR says:

    I can understand the fear of traps when the majority of people know nothing about them. Most traps are easy to release if you know how they function and snares are the easiest without the need for cutters.
    The time of year that wolverines are being trapped the majority will not even be able to get a pet that far in the back country without a snowmobile and most don’t take pets cross country skiing.
    Most pets that are trapped are along road ways and trail heads and that is because they don’t abide by the trapping regulations.

    • SAP says:

      Thing is, Robert, I DO take my dogs out x-c skiing with me. Not every time, but there are some good places where they won’t have to wallow through deep snow the whole time. There are traplines along a couple of our routes. And with the wolf trapping season and anti-wolf fervor, I expect to see more traps, some not-so-expertly placed, in my part of Montana. My dogs are under voice control and they stick close, but schtuff happens. I’m prepared.

    • Immer Treue says:


      I also cross country sky, and in N MN that’s by lakes. I’ve always found it interesting to follow wolf and otter sign and see where it leads. Sometimes what you see tells a story. Where wolves bed down, it looks as if someone compressed a saucer sled I to the snow. Point being, if I key on areas like that, so will rappers. Also, at the end of the trapping season is it a guarantee they will pick up all their traps and snares?

      • Immer Treue says:

        So will trappers

      • Salle says:

        Yeah, I’m not so sure that this new breed of trappers will be all that diligent about cleaning up after themselves, which is why I think going out to enjoy the wild as I have always been able to is going to change dramatically. I don’t take pets out with me ’cause I don’t have any, but I often go out alone… not having that freedom sucks. I’ve already made adjustments to stay out of the woods during hunting season. But now that hunting season is apparently endless, how are we nonhunting wildlife watchers going to exercise our right to our activities without fear of harm due to this new danger? And some folks are scared of wolves…

    • Louise Kane says:

      and what Robert exactly is it that we don’t know about them that would make us less fearful or disgusted by their use?

  11. Salle says:

    Thanks for all that seasoned insight, Carter! I guess I just won’t be going out in the woods anymore… not on foot at least. I can foresee that with protracted/endless seasons or seasons that overlap, it just isn’t safe to go out anymore. And it isn’t because of wildlife but because of humans. Sad, I love the forests and love to hike and explore, but now, not so much anymore given the man-made hazards I used to not have to worry about.

    Thanks to all you legislative and F&G folks and all you trappers for destroying one of the few joys I had in life… Karma will repay you at some point. For any of you who had wondered or were dismayed at my seemingly bad attitude about humankind, do you get it now?

    • Louise Kane says:

      I am sorry that you and others have to fear the traps, snares and endless killing. Such a magnificent place you live to be defiled with these torture devices. I spend close to 4 hours a day outdoors hiking with my buddy, rain or shine. I’d be devastated if the places I loved became minefields for my dog and wildlife. I hope it changes.

      • Salle says:

        It, in my reckoning, is an indication of the obvious decline of humanity. The slope appears to be pretty steep with all this rabid lust for killing and inflicting pain and suffering on those I consider my relations. Makes it hard to sleep indeed… weighing these issues that I see taking away my way of finding peace and enjoyment in life.

  12. Louise Kane says:

    maybe some people will be practicing civil disobedience

  13. Larry Keeney says:

    The chances of trapping your dog is rare, granted, but if it is your dog – it would be devastating. A sturdy hacksaw would make the snare cutting kit more complete. Hacksaw might cut enough of the jaw trap to release it if it’s one that needs the manufacturer’s “cheaters”. A coat or cover over the animal’s head also as Carter stated for the person is good protection if it will stay in place. If you ever come across an eagle in a trap (or injured some other way) it is really necessary to cover its head before dealing with the talons and then get hold of both legs at the same time, keep the head covered and wrap the legs with a cloth to fully cover the talons. Kinda got off message here being about the ruling on wolverine. But the only way commercial trapping will come to an end is through rulings that put vulnerable species on the endangered list and thus forbidding trapping. I also am disappointed with the lack of aggressive prosecution of take of non-target species. The intent to take an animal is made when the trap is set; if it is a protected species the trapper should be as liable as a hunter shooting a moose in closed season thinking it was an elk. Instead the trapper that brings in a trapped wolverine alive is a hero even though one leg has to be amputated (eastern Idaho a few years back). Time has long passed for trapping to be gone.

  14. Salle says:

    The only thing that I can imagine that will cause F&G folks to reassess this issue is to have the USFWS deem wolverines endangered and placed on the list. It wold, theoretically at least, require that their habitat be place off limits to trapping. Maybe. Then some of us would have those places to go without concern for trap-city, if we can get to those places. I’m not holding my breath and it would take some doing just to get to those locations and then there would be the issue of being in critical habitat areas that should be left alone for most intent and purpose.

    What a freaking mess people have created.

  15. Robert R says:

    Salle we only fear, fear its self so don’t quit your outdoor activities because of the fear you your self will be caught in a trapp. The odds of that happening are slim to none. In general there is no hunting seasons going on when the trapping season in happening.
    By law there are set backs from trails, road and dwellings for trappers to follow but not all follow the regulations. I suggest reporting any trap that does not fall within the guidelines.

    Here are recommendations by Montana FWP for trapping regulations and releasing animals from a trap.


  16. Salle says:


    My outdoor activities are primarily off-trail, I start by walking away from the roads and trails. Also, you say that trapping will be going on when the shooting stops… so…

    That leaves me with little time to go out. If they aren’t shooting, there will be traps lying about. And when that ends, the shooting starts again, for wolves, which is what I often hope to observe. There’s never going to be a good time to view them or go tracking if there are either clowns with guns tromping around or out setting up traplines. If it isn’t safe for any number of wildlife species, it isn’t safe for me either. One of the last things I want to encounter, beyond finding my foot in a trap, is one of my brethren in one suffering or dead.

    And mind you, there are any number of folks who, with the advantage of trapping, who will try to avoid getting caught leaving traps out during non-trapping season just because it gives them the opportunity to continue to kill wolves (without the tell-tale sound of guns and being seen with them) because they hate wolves so much… and the more they can make the wolves suffer, the better. Hate and ignorance revolve around each other like binary stars.

  17. Carter Niemeyer says:

    Another reminder for people recreating in Idaho is that wolf traps and snares are mostly restricted to the northern region of the state (Middle Fork of the Salmon and north) – see the regulations. Doesn’t mean you will not run into traps and snares set for fox, coyotes and bobcats in the southern portions though.

  18. Salle says:

    Hey Ken,

    Could you put that video of the guy whose dog was trapped back up in this part of the blog so we, and others, can find it easily and consider this issue from that perspective again?

  19. Richie G says:

    To Salle and all; Hate to see this going on in such beautiful country, hate seems to be on the rise,I think it is the political climate.Can anybody give me real numbers of how many cattle die due disease and how many die from predators. As I think I already know the answer,just so much hate and it’s not only about money,but also who is in control in Washington.All I can see is do not eat meat,only fish as meat that’s it,we are just going backwards now at full speed. Again Salle so sorry your part of the country is so beautiful. To think with so little wolverines out, you think it would be an emergency to stop the traps. But I think something bad will happen before the brakes get put on.


September 2012


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey