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Climate Change Puts Snow-Strapped Wolverines on 'Threatened' List

[node:summary]The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to put the wolverine on the endangered species list as threatened.

Mama wolverines need snow in which to build dens and rear their young, and what with mountain snow-pack melt in a warming climate, that commodity is disappearing—putting the fierce creatures in danger as no predator could. This has prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to recommend their designation as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Described as resembling a miniature bear with a tail, eating everything from carrion to fruit, the species was driven out of the lower 48 states during the 19th and early 20th centuries, wolverines once roamed freely across parts of Utah, the Cascade mountains in Oregon, the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming and the Sierra Nevada. Today only about 300 wolverines remain, according to the USFWS, in the North Cascade mountains of Washington State and the Rockies in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Wolverines are also being sighted in Washington State, where they have not been known to exist for years, according to wildlife officials on KING5 News out of Seattle.

Although their numbers have improved dramatically over the past couple of decades, the animals are now “threatened with extinction in the future due to the loss of snowpack in the wolverine’s snowy, high-elevation habitat,” the USFWS said in its February 1 announcement. 

A 90-day comment period began on February 4 for members of the public as well as people from the scientific community to give input on the proposals, “to ensure that our final decision is based on solid science,” the USFW said in its statement. The agency will make its final determination early next year and “decide whether or not it is prudent to designate critical habitat for the wolverine, and whether such a designation would be beneficial to this species given the threat to its habitat is climate change.”

The designation could mean no more trapping in Montana, since that activity has contributed to their downfall. The measure also includes reintroducing the mammals to new habitats in Colorado.

Left unaddressed by the limitations of the act, environmentalists said, is the proliferation of greenhouse gases, since placing wolverines on the endangered list does not address the issues that are causing the snow to melt.

“I’m glad wolverines are finally getting the protection they need to survive, but if we’re going to save the wolverine and countless other wildlife species, as well as the world we all depend on, we need to take immediate steps to substantially and quickly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” said Noah Greenwald, the endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement.

The designation was part of a settlement stemming from a lawsuit brought in 2008 by the Center and nine other parties against the USFWS when the agency opted to put the wolverine on a waiting list of sorts rather than declaring it threatened outright. The lawsuit was settled in July 2011 that required the USFWS to move forward on the wolverine and 756 other imperiled species, the Center said. 

“By protecting the wolverine from trapping and other threats and reintroducing it to historic habitat, we’re giving it the best possible chance to survive a warming world,” Greenwald said. “Today’s decision will allow many Americans the chance to one day see one of these magnificent animals in the wild.”