By Rob Davis
A federal proposal to list wolverines under the Endangered Species Act is nearing the end of its public comment period. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which in February proposed listing the small carnivore as a threatened species, will accept input until Dec. 2.
Wolverines are rare, seldom-seen creatures primarily found in Alaska and Canada. Though trapping and poisoning efforts likely eliminated them from the lower 48 states in the 20th century, between 250 and 300 have since re-established themselves throughout the Rockies and Pacific Northwest, the southern end of their range.
Though the bulk of wolverines in the lower 48 are found in the Rockies, they've been spotted in Oregon’s Wallowa Range (near the Idaho border) and in Washington’s North Cascades. They’ve been found as far south as California.
The Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency that oversees endangered species regulation, acknowledges the wolverine faces risk from climate change. But the agency aims to use the listing not as a tool to regulate greenhouse gas emissions – a step it also took when it listed polar bears -- but to enhance research and monitoring while curtailing trapping in Montana. The proposal would only list wolverines found in the lower 48 states as threatened.
Climate models warn that the wolverine’s habitat is threatened by climate change because the creatures need deep spring snow to dig the dens in which they reproduce. The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that wolverine habitat, most of which is on federal land, will drop nearly a third by 2045 because of reductions in late spring snowpack.
“In the future, wolverine habitat is likely to be reduced to the point that the wolverine in the contiguous United States is in danger of extinction,” the service wrote in its listing proposal.
The Fish and Wildlife Service rejected petitions to list the wolverine in 2003 and again in 2008. Environmental groups repeatedly challenged those rejections, leading to the current federal effort. Map & Video.