HELENA — Wolverines in the Lower 48 are now federally protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its final rule Wednesday 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.
Killing wolverines in Montana is already prohibited under both federal and state law and can result in criminal and civil penalties.
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.
“Current and increasing impacts of climate change and associated habitat degradation and fragmentation are imperiling the North American wolverine,” said Pacific Regional Director Hugh Morrison. “Based on the best available science, this listing determination will help to stem the long-term impact and enhance the viability of wolverines in the contiguous United States.”
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 Fish and Wildlife, the estimated population of wolverines is between 250 and 300 total animals in the contiguous United States.
Wolverines are limited to alpine tundra and mountain forests in large wilderness areas. When inactive, they occupy dens in caves, under fallen trees or similar sites. While wolverines are primarily terrestrial, they are good climbers especially when pursuing food.
Wolverines were first petitioned to be listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1995. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to list the wolverine in the contiguous U.S. as a threatened species in 2013. In 2020, after reevaluating the wolverine’s status, the Service determined listing the wolverine was not warranted. The 2020 not-warranted determination was withdrawn and litigated. In 2022, the District Court of Montana vacated that decision, meaning the wolverine in the contiguous U.S. was again considered a species proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act.