Federal agency ignores best available science in decision not to list wolverine

Federal Agency Ignores Best Available Science In Decision Not To List Wolverine- Conservationists Promise Legal Action to Protect Rare Species

BOZEMAN, Mont. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision today to abandon proposed protections for the wolverine ignores the best available science, including advice from the Service’s own wildlife experts, conservation groups stated. In response to the decision, a coalition of 9 groups will file notice of intention to sue the Service for refusal to protect the species under the Endangered Species Act.

The Service’s decision comes after Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Noreen Walsh’s determination on May 30, 2014 to overrule the agency’s own wildlife biologists and recommend reversing course on listing the wolverine as a threatened species in the lower-48 states. The Service in February 2013 proposed to list the wolverine under the Endangered Species Act, but state wildlife officials in the Northern Rockies region opposed the proposed listing. No more than 300 wolverines remain in the contiguous United States, according to the Service.

The groups challenging the Service’s determination pointed out that the agency disregarded well established scientific evidence, including the recommendations of FWS’s own scientists, in speculating that the wolverine might be capable of withstanding the projected loss of 63 percent of its snowy habitat in the lower-48 by the year 2085.

“It is a shame that the Fish and Wildlife Service has turned a blind eye to the plight of a wilderness icon such as the wolverine, but we will not stand by while the Service ignores the best available science,” said Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso. “We intend to make sure that the wolverine gets a fighting chance at survival.”

After reviewing the Service’s negative listing determination, Earthjustice will submit to the Service a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue to challenge the Service’s decision unless the Service takes action to protect the wolverine as the Endangered Species Act requires. The groups signing on to the letter are the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Clearwater, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Idaho Conservation League, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, and Rocky Mountain Wild.

“The Service’s decision not to list wolverines failed to address all of the multiple threats to this highly imperiled species,” said Kylie Paul, Rockies and Plains Representative with Defenders of Wildlife. “With a population of only 250-300 in the lower-48, low genetic diversity, one of the lowest successful reproductive rates known for mammals and a gauntlet of threats to their habitat, protections are vital. Wolverines warrant federal protections under the Endangered Species Act now, regardless of the Service’s opinions of climate change impacts.”

“The Obama administration’s short-sighted decision to reject the conclusions of their own scientists and withdraw endangered species protections for these iconic animals is part of a disturbing anti-conservation trend,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Blatantly ignoring extensive science showing wolverines are in real trouble in order to bow to political pressure from states is precisely the kind of recipe for extinction that prompted passage of the Endangered Species Act in the first place.”

“The best available science shows climate change will significantly reduce available wolverine habitat over the next century, and imperil the species,” said Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance’s Siva Sundaresan. “As an agency responsible for protecting our wildlife, FWS should not ignore science and should make their decisions based on facts and data.”

“Places like the Clearwater Basin in Idaho are particularly important for wolverines as they use the area as both a residence and migration route,” said Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater. “The Clearwater Basin is also threatened due to the lower elevations of the mountains in this part of the Rockies.”

“One of the most important things that we can do to get wolverines on the road to recovery in the face of a warming climate is to get them back on the ground in mountain ranges where they once lived,” said Megan Mueller, senior biologist with Rocky Mountain Wild, a Colorado-based conservation organization. “We are disappointed by the Service’s decision not to list wolverines under the Endangered Species Act as protections would have helped to facilitate such efforts in Colorado and beyond.”

BACKGROUND: The wolverine, the largest land-dwelling member of the weasel family, once roamed across the northern tier of the U.S. and as far south as New Mexico in the Rockies and southern California in the Sierra Nevada range. After more than a century of trapping and habitat loss, wolverines in the lower 48 have been reduced to small, fragmented populations in Idaho, Montana, Washington, Wyoming and northeast Oregon.

With no more than 300 wolverines remaining in these regions, the species is at direct risk from climate change because wolverines depend on areas that maintain deep snow through late spring. That is when pregnant females dig their dens into the snowpack to birth and raise their young. Snowpack is already in decline in the western mountains, a trend that is predicted to worsen. Wolverine populations also are threatened by trapping, human disturbance, extremely low population numbers resulting in low genetic diversity, and fragmentation of their habitat.

The groups challenging the Service’s determination pointed out that the agency disregarded well established scientific evidence, including the recommendations of FWS’s own scientists, in speculating that the wolverine might be capable of withstanding the projected loss of 63 percent of its snowy habitat in the lower-48 by the year 2085. Contrary to the Service’s speculation, every one of the 562 verified wolverine den sites in North America and Scandinavia occurred in snow and 95 percent of worldwide summer wolverine observations and 89 percent of year-round wolverine observations fell within areas characterized by persistent spring snowpack. Elimination of this snowy habitat due to warming temperatures presents a direct threat to the wolverine’s survival—a danger compounded by the increasing isolation and fragmentation of wolverine habitats that threatens remaining populations with localized extinctions and inbreeding.


  1. Linda Horn Avatar
    Linda Horn

    The head of F&W said we would have to learn to live without some endangered species. The Sage Grouse are coming home to roost!

  2. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    Yes, and I thought when the President and the Secretary of the Interior said we were going to have to make hard choices and sacrifices, I thought they meant turning down the thermostat a couple of degrees, and everybody having to buy a Pruis!

  3. Gail Avatar

    Now who exactly would be pressuring the US F&W Service to delist??

    More and more,it is apparent the US F&W Service is becoming sloppy and derelict in their duties.

  4. Mike Avatar

    I hate this decision, but it’s tactical. It’s pretty obvious they’re waiting out a hostile congress that may strike up a rider to remove the wolverine forever from consideration.

    1. Ida Lupines Avatar
      Ida Lupines

      That makes me feel better about it. 🙂

  5. Yvette Avatar

    I’m not so sure about that Mike. Is it even possible to remove an animal from all future considerations to ESA?

    USFWL has been making some wonky decisions lately. They did when they reviewed ‘best available science’ on wolves when USFWL pulled out an old agency study as the only science to review.

    Now this decision on wolverines. Since they have the decision linked to climate change, I’ve wondered if that is part of the reason for resisting serious consideration to list, or if it is simply political pressure. A huffpost article quoted someone from Montana as saying MT will now consider limited trapping of wolverines. There are only about 300 left. And they want to consider limited trapping?

    This is one more poor decision from USFWL. Tie them up in court until they actually mean it when they say ‘use best available science’. Under Ashe, I think USFWS is full of bull malarchy when it comes to listing under ESA.

  6. rork Avatar

    We have squat for elevation but Superior makes it snow like crazy in parts of upper Michigan, so I’ve always wanted to try re-introduction there. I’m not so optimistic though, since I hope my DNR chewed that fat to tiny bits already. Migration through Minnesota might be hard – not enough lake effect snow. Also, the super deep snow parts here have hardly any deer for obvious reasons, so food is a problem – no caribou and just a few moose.

  7. Louise Kane Avatar
    Louise Kane

    why isn’t trapping one of the considerations for listing, or is it

    1. Brett Haverstick Avatar
      Brett Haverstick

      Louise I do not believe that trapping was part of the consideration to list or not to list. Yes, it was occurring until recently in MT, and yes, that was having a negative effect on the population, but because it was the only state in the country doing it, I don’t think it was considered.

  8. WyoWolfFan Avatar

    Are they afraid wolverines will eat up all the elk and deer like the wolves were going to do?

  9. Ed Loosli Avatar
    Ed Loosli

    F&W Service Director, Dan Ashe has lost any interest he ever had is seeing rare species recover and thrive…Dan Ashe has spawned the on-going slaughter of wolves and he is pressing for the same for grizzly bears…And now, Dan Ashe has put the wolverine in his cross-hairs as “marked for extinction”. Because Dan Ashe has no interest in wildlife conservation, he should RETIRE and let someone who actually in interested in wildlife conservation over political economic interests take his place. At what point are the major conservation groups going to come out publicly for the removal of Dan Ashe as Director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service?? That time is now.

    1. Amre Avatar

      Sine when did Dan have any interest in species recovery?

      1. Amre Avatar

        Only now do i notice that in that comment I said “since” instead of “sine”. Sometimes i’m not careful enough when i’m typing….

    2. Nancy Avatar

      “At what point are the major conservation groups going to come out publicly for the removal of Dan Ashe as Director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service?? That time is now.”

      Huh……hearing the same kind of comments when it comes to Sally Jewel.


      Maybe its the stress of climate change (or rubbing elbows, or the water, or the wealth, or lobbyists etc.) back there in Washington that sway the minds of all these “do gooders” who start out caring about the environment. 🙂

      1. Ida Lupines Avatar
        Ida Lupines

        If they ever really cared in the first place, and what’s written about them probably is nothing more than PR and political spin.

        In fact, I remember thinking how ironic it was when Greenpeace started using gasoline-powered boats to block oil tankers, or when people drove to protests against oil drilling, or when people who built wood houses and read books said no one should ever cut down trees.

        How many times have we heard this type of false dilemma, for cyring out loud. If what civilization is built on, and no one says it’s all-or-nothing, that people can’t conserve, or want to change the status quo.

    3. Brett Haverstick Avatar
      Brett Haverstick

      Here, here Ed.

  10. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    This is the link to the USFWS memo that includes the rationale on why listing the wolverine is not warranted. Its only 18 pages and fairly easy to read to the layperson. I’m not an attorney but it would seem reasonable to think the plaintiffs will have to show irrefutable evidence as to why their conclusion is wrong.


    1. Ida Lupines Avatar
      Ida Lupines

      With no more than 300 left, can we afford to be wrong? ‘One’ seen in the Uintas I don’t think is enough to be considered recovered.

      1. Ida Lupines Avatar
        Ida Lupines

        It’s shocking to me that they won’t even list them as threatened. Dan ‘There’s Plenty in Canada” Ashe certainly is a disappointment. It’s sad to see the nation as a whole moving away from environmental protections and concerns about wildlife, not to mention this environmentally unconcerned administration.

  11. Scott MacButch Avatar
    Scott MacButch

    It looks like with the latest news, Montana is considering reopening trapping for wolverine – totally senseless.


  12. JB Avatar

    The American Society of Mammalogists and Society for Conservation Biology sent a joint letter to Dan Asche condemning the decision. If you want to understand how scientists feel about this (without the hyperbole of interest groups) check it out: http://www.conbio.org/images/content_chapters/centralnewyork/SCBNA_ASM_conservation_wolverine_2014_07_31.pdf

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