Wolverine ruling causes shift for Colo. reintroduction idea

This undated photo provided by Defenders Of Wildlife shows a wolverine that had been tagged for research purposes in Glacier National Park, Mont. Federal officials will announce Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014 that wolverines do not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act in a finding that underscores the difficulties of using climate models to predict what could happen to a species decades from now. (AP Photo/Defenders of Wildlife, Ken Curtis)

A federal decision not to list the wolverine as a threatened species promises to change the dialogue regarding whether to reintroduce the alpine animal in Colorado.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday said it was withdrawing its previous proposal to list the scavenger and predator for protection under the Endangered Species Act. It concluded climate change isn’t likely to put the animal in danger of extinction now or in the foreseeable future.

As part of that decision, it also dropped a proposal for a nonessential/experimental-population designation for Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife had been considering a possible reintroduction program under that designation, which provides for a state-led, voluntary undertaking that would help address concerns about restrictions being placed on land uses.

“It’s not completely off the table, that reintroduction, but this is definitely a shift,” Parks and Wildlife spokesman Matt Robbins said following the federal decision.

Even before Fish and Wildlife proposed listing the wolverine as threatened, CPW officials already had been considering reintroducing the wolverine, following the success of its lynx reintroduction effort. It also had begun talks with skiing, logging, mining, recreation and other interests.

Wolverines were eliminated in Colorado in the early 1900s by hunters and trappers. One of the animals traveled from Grand Teton National Park to Colorado in 2009 and was tracked in the state through 2012. And this April, one was seen in the Uinta Range of Utah, a state where there hadn’t previously been a confirmed sighting in about 30 years.

On Wednesday, the Western Environmental Law Center notified Fish and Wildlife that 13 conservation groups planned to challenge its decision through a lawsuit.

Said Drew Kerr, carnivore advocate for one of the groups, WildEarth Guardians, “The Service wilted in the face of opposition and retreated to poor past practices placing politics above the law and the needs of imperiled native species. We’re going to use all available legal tools to ensure the federal government does what is required to ensure wolverines survive and recover.”

In the contiguous United States, wolverine are now found in Washington, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Oregon. Fish and Wildlife estimates the total Lower 48 population at between 250-300, but says evidence suggests numbers grew over the last half of the last century. Noting the sightings in places including Colorado and Utah, it says the wolverine may continue expanding into suitable, unoccupied habitat.

The wolverine is a member of the weasel family. Conservationists say they need deep, high-elevation snowpack long into the spring and summer to raise their young, and that scientists largely agree that climate change will reduce their available habitat by up to 63 percent over the next 75 years.

Fish and Wildlife has listed the polar bear as threatened due to climate change.

It said in a question-and-answer fact sheet on its website, “A major difference between polar bear and wolverine is the lack of certainty about specific climate-affected habitat changes and how those changes would link to wolverine demographic parameters. That is, if climate-induced changes to habitat occur, when and how will they cause changes in survival or reproduction of wolverines? … We know that wolverines need areas with deep, persistent spring snow for denning. However, we have no information to suggest that den sites will become limiting in the future as a result of climate change impacts.”

Fish and Wildlife recently declined to list the American pika, a small mammal found in alpine terrain, for protection under the Endangered Species Act after finding the animal can tolerate the predicted temperature increase. Colorado Parks and Wildlife says the pika is doing well in this state.


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