Leaked Document: Scientists Ordered to Scrap Plan to Protect Wolverines

For Immediate Release

Leaked Document: Scientists Ordered to Scrap Plan to Protect Wolverines

Despite Extinction Threat From Global Warming, Obama Administration Caves to Pressure From States, Overrules Federal Scientists

WASHINGTON - According to a leaked memo obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity, scientists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been ordered to reverse their own conclusions and withdraw last year’s proposal to protect American wolverines under the Endangered Species Act.

Wolverine

Photo by Steve Kroschel, USFWS. Photos are available for media use.

Fewer than 300 wolverines remain in the lower 48 states, and global warming over the next 75 years is predicted to wipe out 63 percent of the snowy habitat they need to survive, government scientists have said. In fact changes due to climate warming are “threatening the species with extinction,” the Fish and Wildlife Service said in last year’s announcement of its protection proposal.

Now the memo — signed by Noreen Walsh, director of the Rocky Mountain Region of the Fish and Wildlife Service — tells federal scientists to set aside those conclusions, even though there has been no new science casting doubt on those findings.

“The Obama administration’s own scientists have said for years that global warming is pushing wolverines toward extinction, and now those conclusions are being cast aside for political convenience,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “This is a bizarre and disturbing turn, especially for an administration that’s vowed to let science rule the day when it comes to decisions about the survival of our most endangered wildlife.”

Fish and Wildlife Service scientists proposed Endangered Species Act protection for the wolverine in February 2013. Subsequently state officials in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming raised questions about the degree to which wolverines are dependent on persistent snow and about the degree to which warming will impact their habitat. In response Fish and Wildlife convened a panel of scientists to review the science behind the proposal, resulting in a report in which “nine out of nine panelists expressed pessimism for the long-term (roughly end-of-century) future of wolverines in the contiguous U.S. because of the effects of climate change on habitat.”

Based on the conclusions of the panel, scientists from the Montana field office of the Fish and Wildlife Service recommended that protection be finalized, but, as shown in the leaked memo, were overruled by agency bureaucrats. 

“The decision to overrule agency scientists and deny protection to the wolverine is deeply disappointing and shows that political interference in what should be a scientific decision continues to be a problem under the Obama administration, just as it was under George W. Bush,” said Greenwald. “Wolverines and the winter habitats they depend on are severely threatened by our warming world. Only serious action to reduce fossil fuels can save the wolverine, tens of thousands of other species, and our very way of life.”

Background
On Feb. 4, 2013, the Fish and Wildlife Service found that wolverines warrant protection as a threatened species, concluding based on the “best scientific and commercial information available” that “the contiguous United States wolverine DPS presently meets the definition of a threatened species due to the likelihood of habitat loss caused by climate change resulting in population decline leading to breakdown of metapopulation dynamics.” This conclusion was based on the fact that “(w)olverines require habitats with near-arctic conditions wherever they occur,” that they “exist as small and semi-isolated subpopulations in a larger metapopulation that requires regular dispersal of wolverines between habitat patches to maintain itself” and that “(c)limate changes are predicted to reduce wolverine habitat and range by 31 percent over the next 30 years and 63 percent over the next 75 years, rendering remaining wolverine habitat significantly smaller and more fragmented.”

In response to the proposed rule, the states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming all submitted comments opposing protection of wolverines, questioning the science behind the conclusion that they were threatened by climate change. To address these concerns, the Fish and Wildlife Service delayed final protection for six months and convened an expert scientific panel to evaluate the science. The panel issued a report in April 2014 concluding that “there are three primary climate related factors that are correlated with wolverines: persistent deep snow, contiguous snow, and temperature,” a finding that led to the panel’s unanimous statement of concern for the long-term survival  of wolverines in the contiguous United States. These conclusions support the conclusion of the proposed rule that the wolverine is threatened with extinction. 

On May 17, 2014, the assistant regional director of ecological services at the Fish and Wildlife Service sent a memo to the regional director in Denver transmitting the recommendation of the Montana field office that “the wolverine listing be finalized as threatened.” The memo further concludes that, “In our review we have been unable to obtain or evaluate any other peer reviewed literature or other bodies of evidence that would lead us to a different conclusion.” 

In contrast, the recently leaked memo overrules and ignores the substantial evidence and conclusions of the proposed rule, the independent science panel report, and the strong conclusions of the Montana field office, which is staffed with the agency scientists who have the greatest knowledge of wolverines.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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