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U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposes federal protections for rare wolverines

Feb 10, 2013 - From staff reports

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to list the wolverine in the lower 48 states as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. This move would focus new resources on wolverine recovery and initiate steps to help the species survive the effects of climate change.

"This proposal, if adopted, would give the wolverine a fighting chance at survival in the lower 48 states," said Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso, who represented conservationists in court. "The most immediate need is to stop the threats to the species that we can control, including direct killing of wolverines through trapping."

Wolverines are rare, wide-ranging members of the weasel family that exist in "islands" of disconnected habitat in high-elevation mountainous areas. Biologists estimate there are fewer than 300 wolverines in the contiguous United States, primarily in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and north-central Washington. A couple of lone dispersing individuals have been detected recently in Colorado and California as well.

"This listing decision, if adopted, would provide vital protections for the Rocky Mountains' few remaining wolverines," said Sophie Osborn, wildlife program director with the Wyoming Outdoor Council. "The greater Yellowstone area is one of the last strongholds in the lower 48 for this elusive but charismatic animal, and it could serve as a critical link to important wolverine habitats that are less vulnerable to the impacts of our changing climate."

Female wolverines require deep snow that persists through mid-spring for raising their young, but wolverines may lose up to two-thirds of suitable habitat by the end of this century.

Climate change -- which is the primary threat to the species -- could further isolate already small and scattered wolverine populations in the contiguous United States, Osborn said.

"Protecting the wolverine under the Endangered Species Act would help to minimize other threats to the species, bolster the population, and retain connections between the wolverine habitat that remains," she said.

Chris Colligan of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition agreed.

"We see the impacts of a changing climate all around us," Colligan said.

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