A two-decades-running legal fight to establish federal protection for the wolverine — an alpine species scientists say is imperiled — is advancing in the courtroom once again.
The 300 or so wolverines scattered through the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest were proposed for “threatened” status under the Endangered Species Act more than five years ago.
But then the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service withdrew its plans for protections. Environmental groups litigated that decision and won in federal court in 2016, when a judge found the agency cherry-picked its science rationalizing the withdrawal.
Now groups are aiming to sue again, this time because the court-ordered plans for protecting wolverines have not surfaced more than three years later.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service has just sat on their hands and did nothing,” Andrea Santarsiere, an attorney with the Victor, Idaho, Center for Biological Diversity, said in an interview. “They’ve blown their own proposed deadlines for putting out a rule.
“The judge stressed in his decision that species need protections at the earliest possible time,” she said. “That’s what the Endangered Species Act says. And for the wolverine, that time is now.”
Research indicates that climate change will melt year-round snowfields wolverines require for denning, dealing a blow to the alpine-dwelling species. The largest member of the mustelid family, wolverines live at such low densities that at one time a single specimen inhabited the Teton Range.
Advocacy groups that signed onto the “notice of intent” to sue the federal agency include Conservation Northwest, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Clearwater, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the Idaho Conservation League, the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Rocky Mountain Wild and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.
“Wolverines are legendary for the ferocious spirit that we all need to embody in order to protect our ecosystems and communities,” Alliance Executive Director Skye Schell said in a statement. “So, it pains us to know that wolverines are ever-more threatened by habitat loss and now climate change.”
The group’s notice gives Fish and Wildlife 60 days to issue a rule proposing protections. Inaction would lead to a lawsuit.