Suing for Wolverines

Wolverines depend on areas that maintain deep snow from February through early May

A coalition of environmental groups filed suit in federal court last week over the wolverine being denied protection under the Endangered Species Act. The groups claim that the White House call not to list the wolverine—whose numbers have been shrinking due to global warming and other factors—was based on politics, not science.

Wolverines are rare, wide-ranging members of the weasel family that are associated with wild, remote alpine areas. Environmentalists are concerned about their status in the lower 48 because of their low numbers, isolation from larger Canadian populations, and climate change. In a recent status review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the federal agency responsible for overseeing endangered species protections, stated that wolverine population numbers were declining precipitously: "The small effective population size (number of breeding wolverines) in the contiguous U.S. wolverine population has led to inbreeding and consequent loss of genetic diversity," they report. "Over time, if the current effective population size remains stable, the population will be at risk of extinction."

Greens believe that the Bush administration failed to follow the recommendations of its own FWS scientists because it feared putting a second species on the endangered list due to global warming. (Last May, the White House added the polar bear, whose sea ice habitat is breaking up due to climate change, after months of delay.) Wolverines are at direct risk from climate change, because they depend on areas that maintain deep snow from February through early May, which is their birthing and denning season. Snowpack is already in decline in their preferred habitat in the western mountains and is only expected to worsen in the coming years.

The lawsuit to overturn the listing decision was filed by Earthjustuce on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Friends of the Clearwater, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Idaho Conservation League, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Wyoming Outdoor Council.

Source: Center for Biological Diversity