By Louis Sahagun
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official has ordered federal biologists to withdraw their conclusion that the last 300 wolverines in the continental United States deserve threatened species status.
The biologists had recommended the protection on grounds that climate change is destined to destroy the near arctic conditions of the remaining animals' habitat - even though the population of about 300 has shown signs of slight growth in recent years.
Officials in three states where most of the animals are still found - Wyoming, Montana and Idaho - vigorously objected. They argued that conclusions about the effects climate change will have on wolverine habitat are premature.
A listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act would protect U.S. wolverines as a population segment geographically separated from those in Canada and Alaska. (There are scattered populations of wolverines, the largest member of the weasel family, beyond Wyoming, Montana and Idaho; a lone wolverine was spotted in California in recent years.)
Noreen Walsh, a biologist and Fish and Wildlife director for the region that includes Wyoming and Montana,ordered a reversal of the recommendation to list the animals as threatened, the agency confirmed Thursday. She cited uncertainties “about the degree to which we can reliably predict impacts to wolverine populations from climate change,“ according to agency documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
Gavin Shire, a spokesman for the agency, said Walsh's memo “reflects one step in an objective and deliberative internal process“ regarding the status of the wolverines.
Critics accused Walsh of injecting politics into a scientific process.
Jeff Copeland, a spokesman for the nonprofit Wolverine Foundation and a retired U.S. Forest Service biologist, said that for Walsh to reverse the recommendation “without any new scientific evidence is a sign of strong political pressure from the states.“
Noah Greenwald, director of endangered species at the Center for Biological Diversity, said, “Caving to political pressure from the states goes against repeated pledges by the Obama administration to let science rule the day when it comes to decisions about survival of our most endangered wildlife.“
Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe is expected to make a final determination on the matter by Aug. 4.