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Montana plans to sue over 'threatened' status of wolverines

US moves to protect wolverines as climate change melts their refuges
Posted at 10:39 AM, Jan 26, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-26 12:41:41-05

HELENA — On Friday, January 26, 2024, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks announced its intent to sue the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) over its recent listing of wolverines as a threatened species.

The USFWS announced its final rule in November 2023 to list the distinct population segment of the North American wolverine in the contiguous U.S. as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The new protections require USFWS to prepare a wolverine recovery plan, identify critical habitats for protection and look at the possibility of the reintroduction in certain areas.

Montana says designating wolverines in the lower 48 states as a distinct population is a change from previous considerations connecting the U.S. population of the species to the Canadian population. And adds that killing wolverines is already prohibited under state and federal law,

The state also says the USFWS decision uses climate models from the future and projected future snowpack to justify its ruling and ignores the studies that show wolverines can den without snow.

In a statement released following FWP's announcement, Governor Greg Gianforte called the government's decision illogical and ill-informed, adding, " “In Montana, we’ve worked hard to manage and conserve the wolverine population and have partnered with neighboring states on research and monitoring efforts to ensure the future conservation of the species. Adding a layer of unnecessary bureaucracy does nothing for conservation but does everything to undermine our responsible management of this species.”

When a species is listed under the Endangered Species Act federal agencies must take into consideration and ensure that activities authorized don’t put the species in further jeopardy. That can open the door to litigation challenging projects that they think may negatively impact the listed species or its habitat.

Wolverines were historically found across the Rockies ranging from Montana, Washington, and Idaho down to the Rockies in New Mexico and the Serra Nevada Range in Southern California.

Presently only small populations of the species exist habituating Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, and northern Oregon. According to a study conducted in 2014 by the USFWS, the estimated population of wolverines is between 250 and 300 total animals in the contiguous United States.

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