Wolverines, a member of the weasel family that resembles a small bear, once ranged within the lower 48 from California through the Midwest.
Over the past 100 years, their numbers have fallen sharply, with no more than 300 left in the contiguous U.S.
They’re primarily found in Washington, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, with some spotted in California and Colorado.
Citing a myriad of threats including climate change and winter recreation disturbances, the federal government is taking action to help protect the species.
Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced that it was listing the contiguous U.S. population segment of the North American wolverine as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
This comes as protections have been considered off and on since 2013. The agency notes that over the past five years, certain issues the species is facing have become clearer.
USFWS Pacific Regional Director Hugh Morrison says, “Current and increasing impacts of climate change and associated habitat degradation and fragmentation are imperiling the North American wolverine. Based on the best available science, this listing determination will help to stem the long-term impact and enhance the viability of wolverines in the contiguous United States.”
The USFWS proposed listing the lower 48 population as threatened in 2013 but then reversed course in 2020 after a reevaluation. That decision was then taken to court, with conservation groups filing a lawsuit. In 2022, the District Court of Montana vacated the withdrawal of the proposal, putting the wolverine again at consideration for ESA listing.
In September, the agency updated its 2018 species status assessment with an addendum covering new information on climate change, habitat connectivity, trapping, snow, population density, and impacts on genetic diversity. The new research showed that connectivity with wolverines in the southern Canadian Rockies has become problematic, as that population is declining. Major highways have been getting in the way of adequate female dispersal, which appears to be impacting genetic diversity.
The species also requires persistent snow into the spring for caching food, denning, and reproduction, but climate change is threatening that, with projected spring snow loss through the end of the century found to be more significant.
Humans are impacting the species’ survival, as well, through development and impacts to food availability in wolverines’ habitat, trapping in southern Canada, and backcountry winter recreation.
The service says it will be preparing a recovery outline for wolverines in the lower 48 that includes interim conservation and management plans.
The protections include exemptions for the taking of an animal that occurs through research activities, legal trapping of other species, and from wildfire risk reduction activities.
Public feedback is being accepted through January 29, 2024. To find out more, visit federalregister.gov and search Docket No.FWS-R6-ES-2023-0216.
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This article by Michelle Milliken was first published by The Animal Rescue Site. Lead Image: PIXABAY / ANDREA BOHL.