Photo: National Science Foundation

Photo: National Science Foundation

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official has directed federal scientists to withdraw their recommendation that the last 300 wolverines in the continental United States deserve threatened species status. There has been pressure from Western states to overrule biologists who have concluded that climate change will threaten the wolverine with loss of habitat. A final decision will be made in August by an Obama political appointee.

Los Angeles Times, July 5:

U.S. reverses proposal to list wolverine as threatened species

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. …

[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 Times. …

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.

No more wolverines, Wyoming Governor Mead tells feds (Jackson Hole, Wyoming, News & Guide, June 11, 2014

Wyoming officials have again told the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that that they oppose extending federal protection to the wolverine, the Teton Range’s rarest mammal. …

The tenacious and elusive 17- to 40-pound cousin of the weasel is so uncommon it’s estimated that just four to seven individuals inhabit the entire Teton Range, which is considered ideal habitat. …

The expected future effects of climate change, expected to diminish mountain snowpack wolverines need for reproduction, are the heart of Fish and Wildlife’s proposal to manage wolverines as threatened.

Mead extended the doubt he frequently casts on the phenomenon of climate change to its potential impacts on wolverines.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Wolverine

In North America, wolverines occur within a wide variety of habitats, primarily boreal forests, tundra, and western mountains throughout Alaska and Canada; however, the southern portion of the range extends into the contiguous United States.

Currently, wolverines are found in the North Cascades in Washington and the Northern Rocky Mountains in Idaho, Montana, Oregon (Wallowa Range), and Wyoming. Individual wolverines have also moved into historic range in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California and the Southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado, but have not established breeding populations in these areas. …

Litters are born between February and April, containing one to five kits, with an average in North America of between 1 and 2 kits.

Female wolverines use natal (birthing) dens that are excavated in snow. Persistent, stable snow greater than 1.5 meters (5 feet) deep appears to be a requirement for natal denning, because it provides security for offspring and buffers cold winter temperatures. …

Federal Register Notice, February 4, 2013: Threatened Status for the Distinct Population Segment of the North American Wolverine Occurring in the Contiguous United States

Wolverines were nearly extirpated from the contiguous United States in the early 20th century due to broad-scale predator trapping and poisoning programs. Since that time they have made a remarkable recovery. Unfortunately, climate warming over the next century is likely to significantly reduce wolverine habitat, to the point where persistence of wolverines in the contiguous United States, without intervention, is in doubt. Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection and actions by Federal and State agencies in partnership with private landowners and nongovernmental organizations can help protect the wolverine from extinction by increasing its ability to persist in the face of climate change.

We are, therefore, proposing to protect the North American wolverine as a threatened species under the ESA.

We are also proposing a special rule that would limit protections of the ESA only to those necessary to address the threats to the species. In the case of the wolverine, human activities in wolverine habitat such as snowmobiling, backcountry skiing, and land management activities like timber harvest and infrastructure development, which do not constitute threats to the species, would not be prohibited or regulated. However, intentional killing of wolverines would be prohibited. We are seeking input on whether or not it is appropriate to prohibit incidental take of wolverine in the course of legal trapping activities directed at other species, if states have programs in place to minimize the chances of this occurring.

National Science Foundation news release: Wolverines Threatened by Climate Change, Earlier Springs

The aggressive wolverine may not be powerful enough to survive climate change in the contiguous United States, new research concludes.

Wolverine habitat in the northwestern United States is likely to warm dramatically if society continues to emit large amounts of greenhouse gases, according to new computer model simulations carried out at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo.

“The researchers have combined regional-scale climate projections with knowledge of a single species and its unique habitat to examine its vulnerability to a changing climate,” says Sarah Ruth, program director in NSF’s Directorate for Geosciences, which funds NCAR.

“This study is an example of how targeted climate predictions can produce new insights that could help us reduce the impact of future climate change on delicate ecosystems.”

Climate change is likely to imperil the wolverine in two ways: reducing or eliminating the springtime snow cover that wolverines rely on for raising their young, and increasing August temperatures well beyond what the species may be able to tolerate.

“Species that depend on snow cover for their survival are likely to be very vulnerable to climate change,” says NCAR scientist Synte Peacock, the lead author of a paper reporting the study’s results.

“It’s highly uncertain whether wolverines will continue to survive in the lower 48, given the changes that are likely to take place there.”

Peacock’s research focused on mountainous regions of the Northwest, the primary habitat of the wolverine population in the contiguous United States.

The new deadline for a final rule or withdrawal of the proposal will be August 4, 2014.