Montana wildlife officials last week expressed their formal opposition to a proposal from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list the wolverine on the Endangered Species List.
The Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks filed the letter by the end of the proposal’s public comment period last Monday.
USFWS says global climate change will significantly reduce wolverine habitat over the next century and protecting the species now will bolster the population for an expected future decline.
“We maintain that we’ve had an expanding population, even with climatic conditions that are maybe similar to what they’re predicting,” said Montana FWP Spokesman Ron Aasheim. “Our feeling is that the best available science doesn’t indicate that there’s a need to list the wolverine.”
“The wolverine is a bit unusual in the case that the current status is improving,” said USFWS Biologist Shawn Sartorius, who heads the agency’s wolverine research, but added ultimately, under the Endangered Species Act, it’s future threats that count.
The main impact Sartorius cites for the listing is the reduction of mountain snowpack levels. Wolverines use snow to build dens and raise their young. He said those impacts are being felt now.
USFWS says the reason wolverine populations continue to expand now is they are still filling the available habitat after being nearly wiped-out in the 20th Century “due to broad-scale predator trapping and poisoning programs.” Sartorius said listing the animal would give the agency more tools to help grow the population as much as possible.
“We have some potential to get wolverines into some of those places that they used to occur in to help expand their range before the full impact of climate change occurs,” Sartorius said.
Now that the public comment period is finished, USFWS will looking over their research and the comments to make their decision on listing the wolverine. Sartorius said a ruling will be made in February of 2014.
In the meantime, an injunction has been placed on trapping wolverines in Montana, which FWP also opposes. That prohibition would continue if the species is listed.
FWP allowed trappers to take five total wolverines per year. USFWS roughly estimates between 250 and 300 wolverines currently live in the lower 48 states.