Missoula, MT – The wolverine has regained candidate species status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) following a Montana District Court decision late Thursday. The Court agreed with conservation groups that the wolverine is entitled to additional ESA protections while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) reconsiders its 2020 decision to deny a petition to list the wolverine as threatened or endangered under the ESA over the next 18 months.
“The wolverine deserves protection under the Endangered Species Act, and this is a step toward ensuring the species does not suffer additional harm before that happens,” said Amanda Galvan, associate attorney with Earthjustice’s Northern Rockies office. “FWS previously ignored key studies that illustrate the threats the wolverine continues to face due to global warming. By reviewing a more complete picture of the species’ circumstances, we are hopeful that the agency will identify the need for increased protections.”
As a candidate species, the wolverine will be afforded certain protections under the Endangered Species Act. Federal agencies must consult with FWS on any action that might jeopardize a candidate species. Restoration of candidate species status also ensures that impacts to wolverines, and their habitat, are considered in current and upcoming planning decisions that could impact critical habitat for the species.
“The wolverine is a test case. How do we protect snow dependent species in the era of climate change?” asked Joseph Vaile from the conservation group KS Wild in southern Oregon. “One thing is certain, without federal protections, this majestic species will be another climate change casualty.”
“This decision is a victory for wolverines, paving the way for desperately needed protections,” said Jonathan Proctor, Rockies and Plains program director with Defenders of Wildlife. “With Endangered Species Act protections, the wolverine might finally have a fighting chance at survival.”
“Wolverines desperately needed this good news, but it’s time to follow the science and finally grant them the full life-saving protections of the Endangered Species Act,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “With wolverines facing dire threats like climate change and habitat loss, the Fish and Wildlife Service can’t waste any more time.”
“The Fish and Wildlife Service has been dragging its feet for far too long,” said Brad Smith, North Idaho director for the Idaho Conservation League. “It’s time to protect wolverines and develop a recovery plan that prevents these amazing animals from going extinct.”
“Wolverines are subject to considerable threats from a warming climate, shrinking snowpack, and increasingly fragmented habitat,” said Dave Werntz, science and conservation director at Conservation Northwest. “Endangered Species Act protections help focus resources and actions to ensure wolverines have a future in the west’s wild landscapes.”
“Today’s decision gives us hope that wolverines could once again roam Colorado’s high country,” said Megan Mueller, conservation biologist at Rocky Mountain Wild. “Wolverines need the protection of the Endangered Species Act to return to Colorado, where high elevation, snowy habitat could help these elusive and fascinating animals survive in the face of climate change.”
Conservation groups filed suit in December 2020 challenging the FWS decision to withhold ESA protections from wolverines in the lower 48 states, where no more than 300 wolverines remain. The snow-dependent wolverine, which is the largest terrestrial member of the weasel family, is threatened with massive habitat losses due to global warming. In response to the lawsuit, FWS has agreed to reexamine its 2020 decision, but did not commit to setting aside that decision to allow its new analysis to be done on a clean slate. The Court’s decision today requires the agency to return the wolverine to the status it held before the agency made its flawed decision.
Earthjustice represents a broad coalition of conservation groups in the lawsuit—the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Clearwater, Idaho Conservation League, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Sierra Club, and Rocky Mountain Wild.