The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has told wolverines to get in line.
On Monday, the agency declared that the ferocious weasel-like mammal, which two years ago the Bush administration found ineligible for listing under the Endangered Species Act, warrants federal protection largely due to the warming of its alpine habitat, but its listing is precluded by the need to address other "higher priority species."
"The threats to the wolverine are long-term due to the impacts of climate change on their denning habitat, especially important to assist the species in successfully reproducing," says Steve Guertin, FWS director of the Mountain-Prairie Region. "If we work with state and other partners to help the wolverine now, we may be able to counter the long-term impacts of climate change on their habitat and keep them from becoming endangered."
In the meantime, the agency will develop a proposed rule to list wolverines in the contiguous 48 states—which, in a shift from the Bush-era decision, was found to be a "distinct population segment"—and make any determinations on critical habitat.
Critical habitat would likely be designated in Montana, where the majority of the country's roughly 300 wolverines reside. Brian Giddings, furbearer coordinator for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), estimates Montana's mountainous regions are home to about 250 wolverines. The healthy population has justified an annual trapping season, which began two weeks ago, and Giddings doesn't expect Monday's decision to affect the state's quota, which currently stands at a total of five individuals.
"I don't anticipate us changing anything with the quotas right now," Giddings says. "They're very, very conservative already. Plus, the listing was based on an absence of wolverine in other states, not necessarily Montana."
FWS determined that, absent immigration, at least 400 breeding pairs would be necessary to sustain genetic viability of the wolverine population in the contiguous United States.
Gulo gulo, latin for "glutton," referring to wolverines' ravenous eating habits and jaws capable of crushing ungulate bones, now waits in line with 12 other species in FWS Region 6 warranting protection. Half of those—including Montana's artic grayling—are higher priorities than the wolverine.