The Fish and Wildlife Service has withdrawn its proposal to list wolverine as an endangered species despite the threat presented to its high mountain habitat by climate change.
The weasel family member, known for its fierce tenacity, has a population of fewer than 300 animals in Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon and California. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Daniel Ashe said scientists don’t know enough about the ecology of the secretive species, whose population has been small but stable in the U.S.
Females are known to be sensitive to disturbance around their dens. If disturbed, mothers may abandon the den and move their young, or kits, exposing them to cold, predators or other hazards. Studies of the effects of climate change on denning have not been conclusive.
The remote, rugged and snow covered mountains where they live for most of the year was a winter wilderness without humans until the 1980s, when more powerful snowmobiles made traveling through the powder snow easier. Skiers also increased their access into these alpine areas raised concerns among biologists and land managers.
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In Idaho snowmobiles and skiers have cooperated with retired Forest Service Biologist Jeff Copeland, now the head of the Wolverine Foundation, who lives in Boise and Driggs.
Copeland and biologist Kim Heinemeyer conducted a study in the McCall in 2010 where GPS monitors were placed in collars on wolverines and carried by snowmobilers and skiers on trips into the back country. He said they had great cooperation, getting 90 percent of the users willing to carry the devices because of Mitchell and the snowmobile association.
With only five years of data scientists say it is too early to draw any conclusions from the research. The program has made group like the Idaho Snowmobile Association friends of the wolverine.
“We want to make sure they survive in healthy numbers,” said Sandra Mitchell, executive director of the Idaho Snowmobilers.
But wildlife advocacy groups said the service was giving into politics, not following science by not listing the wolverine.
“The Service is ignoring the numerous serious threats to wolverines, including the species’ low genetic diversity and impacts such as trapping and winter recreation,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife and a former director of the agency.