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Montana plans to sue over wolverine's threatened species status

US moves to protect wolverines as climate change melts their refuges
Posted at 10:22 AM, Jan 26, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-29 12:22:25-05

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

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its final rule in late November of last year 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 U.S. Fish and Wildlife 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.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit conservation advocacy group, released a statement in response to the state's filing saying, "There’s a very real danger that wolverines will disappear from the lower 48 states without strong federal protections.”

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.

Editors note 01/26/2024: This story was updated to add a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity.