Politics Overrules Biologists' Views in Wolverine Decision

For Immediate Release


David Gaillard, Defenders of Wildlife, (406) 586-3970
Tim Preso, Earthjustice, (406) 586-9699
Joe Scott, Conservation Northwest, (360) 671-9950, ext.11
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495

Politics Overrules Biologists' Views in Wolverine Decision

Conservation groups act to save imperiled species

MISSOULA, Mont. - A recent federal decision refusing to protect wolverines in the
western United States is a case of political considerations winning out
over scientific findings by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service experts,
according to a coalition of 10 conservation groups that filed suit
today in U.S. district court. The groups are challenging the agency's
decision to deny wolverines protection under the Endangered Species

Documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act revealed that
Washington officials overruled regional Fish and Wildlife Service
biologists who found that wolverines are "warranted" for protection
under the Endangered Species Act. The reversal occurred because the
Bush administration wanted to prevent a second listing under the act
due to climate change. After months of delay, the Bush administration
in May listed the polar bear as threatened, largely due to the threat
posed by climate change. 

Wolverines are also at direct risk from climate change because they
depend on areas that maintain deep snow from February through early
May. That is when the pregnant females dig their dens to birth and
raise their young. Snowpack is already in decline in the western
mountains, a trend that is predicted to worsen. Wolverine populations
also are threatened by trapping, human disturbance, and fragmentation
of their habitat.

"The wolverine is facing serious threats to its survival in the
lower 48 states, yet the Bush administration made a political decision
not to protect this species," said Tim Preso of Earthjustice, who is
representing the groups. "Americans deserve better. Decisions about
protection of endangered species are supposed to be based on science,
not politics."

Wolverines are rare, wide-ranging members of the weasel family that
are associated with wild, remote alpine areas. Conservationists are
concerned about wolverines in the lower 48 because of their low
numbers, isolation from Canadian populations, and climate change. The
US Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged these concerns in its recent
status review, stating: "The small effective population size [ e.g.,
the number of breeding wolverines] in the contiguous U.S. wolverine
population has led to inbreeding and consequent loss of genetic
diversity... " The review goes on to say that over time, "...the
population will be at risk of extinction."

Despite these grave biological threats, the agency decided to not
protect the species, claiming: 1) they are not sufficiently "discrete"
from Canadian populations, and 2) the wolverine's current range in the
lower 48 is not significant to the species as a whole. The conservation
groups maintain that this is an illegal "about-face" from previous
listing decisions regarding, for example, lynx, grizzly bears, and

"We have received no response to our 13-page letter addressing these
concerns we sent in July," said David Gaillard of Defenders of
Wildlife. "This leaves us no choice but to file suit and try to reverse
the Fish and Wildlife Service's decision before it is too late for
wolverines in the West."

"Wolverines are an icon of the West's wild places," said Noah
Greenwald, science director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
"The future of the West is connected to how we take care of the
wolverine and its habitat."

Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife,
Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Friends of the
Clearwater, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Idaho Conservation League,
Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center
and Wyoming Outdoor Council.

Read the complaint (PDF)


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