Conservation groups sue federal agency to protect wolverines

Contacts: Adrienne Maxwell, Earthjustice
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity
Dave Werntz, Conservation Northwest
Gary Macfarlane, Friends of the Clearwater
Chris Colligan, Greater Yellowstone Coalition
John Robison, Idaho Conservation League
Siva Sundaresan, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance,
Joseph Vaile, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center
Megan Mueller, Rocky Mountain Wild

MISSOULA, Mont.— Eight conservation groups joined forces today in a legal challenge of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to abandon proposed protections for the wolverine, a rare and elusive mountain-dwelling species with fewer than 300 individuals remaining in the lower 48.


In February 2013 the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to list the wolverine as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act after the agency’s biologists concluded global warming was reducing the deep spring snowpack pregnant females require for denning.

But after state wildlife managers in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming objected, arguing that computer models about climate change impact are too uncertain to justify the proposed listing, in May 2014 the Service’s Regional Director Noreen Walsh ordered her agency to withdraw the listing, ignoring the recommendations of her own scientists. The reversal came despite confirmation by a panel of outside experts that deep snow is crucial to the ability of wolverines to reproduce successfully. The agency formalized that withdrawal in a final decision issued Aug. 13.

The coalition of eight conservation groups suing to overturn that decision filed the lawsuit today in federal district court in Missoula, Mont. The coalition is represented by Earthjustice.

“The wolverine is a famously tough creature that doesn’t back down from anything, but even the wolverine can’t overcome a changing climate by itself,” said Earthjustice attorney Adrienne Maxwell. “To survive, the wolverine needs the protections that only the Endangered Species Act can provide.”

The groups bringing the lawsuit are the 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 Rocky Mountain Wild.

“The denial of protection for the wolverine is yet another unfortunate example of politics entering into what should be a purely scientific decision,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “All of the science and the agency’s own scientists say the wolverine is severely endangered by loss of spring snowpack caused by climate change, yet the agency denied protection anyway.”

“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.”

“Wolverines in the Clearwater region are particularly vulnerable because the elevations here are less than those elsewhere in the Northern Rockies,” said Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater. “It would be a great loss if this fearless critter were to disappear from the wild Clearwater country.”

“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 conservation biologist with Rocky Mountain Wild. “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.”

“The remote, rugged, and snowy North Cascades are ideal wolverine habitat,” said Dave Werntz, science and conservation director with Conservation Northwest. “Protection under the Endangered Species Act will help wolverine survive a warming climate, shrinking snowpack, and increasingly fragmented habitat.”

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