Wolverine decision protested
Federal officials said that wolverines do not warrant endangered species protections in the contiguous United States, despite concern among government scientists that the rarely seen animal remains imperiled.
Once found from Alaska to Colorado, wolverines now survive in only a few strongholds in the lower 48 states.
"We don’t live in Canada. We live in Washington and Montana and Idaho, and it’s important that we have wolverines here," said Joe Scott with the group Conservation Northwest.
Researchers who work with the animal describe it as one of North America’s least understood larger mammals. A member of the weasel family that can weigh up to 40 pounds, it feeds primarily on carrion and lives in high mountains where snow covers the ground much of the year.
The range of a single wolverine can cover up to 350 square miles, which contributes to its extremely low breeding rate.
Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Shawn Sartorius said wolverines likely hit their low point in the early 20th century, when they were virtually wiped out during a poisoning campaign directed against wolves and other large predators. He said the population has slowly rebounded in the decades since, but warned new threats could reverse that recovery.
"Their populations are still small enough that without those populations being connected to Canada, we wouldn’t expect them to be viable over the long term," he said.
One of the biggest emerging threats to the animal is human development, particularly within the mountain valleys wolverines must cross to breed, Sartorius said. Also, researchers fear climate change could melt off many of the snow fields in which the animals typically den, causing a potentially drastic reduction in habitat.