On February 1, 2013, in response to a court-ordered deadline, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced that the agency is seeking information from the scientific community and the public on a proposal to protect the North American wolverine as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The federal agency is also seeking comment on two proposed special rules designed to facilitate management and recovery of the species should it receive protection.
An estimated 250 to 300 wolverines now occur in the lower 48 states, where the species has rebounded after broad-scale predator trapping and poisoning programs led to its near extinction in the early 1900s.
Extensive climate modeling indicates that the wolverine’s snowpack habitat will be greatly reduced and fragmented in the coming years due to climate warming, thereby threatening the species with extinction. Wolverines are dependent on areas in high mountains, near the tree-line, where conditions are cold year-round and snow cover persists well into the month of May.
According to the announcment, USFWS does not consider most activities occurring within the high elevation habitat of the wolverine, including snowmobiling and backcountry skiing, and land management activities like timber harvesting and infrastructure development, to constitute significant threats to the wolverine.
As a result, the agency is proposing a special rule under Section 4(d) of the ESA that, should the species be listed, would allow these types of activities to continue.
Under the proposed 4(d) rule, take of wolverines associated with hunting and trapping would be prohibited if the species is listed. The Service is seeking input on the appropriateness of prohibiting incidental take of wolverine in the course of legal trapping activities directed at other species.
In support of ongoing federal and state agencies to protect the wolverine from extinction, the Service is simultaneously proposing a special rule under Section 10(j) of the ESA to facilitate potential reintroduction of the species its historical range in Colorado. The reintroduction effort, which is still under consideration, would be led by the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife.
Currently, wolverines occur within the North Cascades Range in Washington and the Northern Rockies of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and a small portion of Oregon (Wallowa Range). More than 90 percent of wolverine habitat in the contiguous U.S.is located on federally-owned land.
If the proposed listing rule is finalized, the Service will add the wolverine to the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.
The listing would protect the wolverine as a threatened species in the contiguous (or lower 48) states as a distinct population segment (DPS) under the ESA. A DPS is a portion of a vertebrate species that is geographically discrete from the rest of its kind and also is significant to its survival.
A 90-day comment period begins February 4, 2013, to allow the public and stakeholders an opportunity to provide information or comments regarding the proposed listing and 4(d) rule and the proposed 10(j) rule. A draft Recovery Outline will also be available for comments.
During the comment period, USFWS will also seek peer review of the proposed listing and proposed rules from the scientific community. Comments will be accepted until May 6, 2013.
For more information, visit: http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/wolverine/