On Monday, imperiled wolverines, also known as “mountain devils,” won big in court. A federal judge ruled that they were improperly denied endangered species protection in light of the threat they face from climate change.
Wolverines once ranged throughout the West, but were nearly wiped out by overly excessive trapping and poisoning in the early 20th century. Today, there are only believed to be as few as 250 to 300 left in the lower 48, who are mostly concentrated in the Northern Rockies, and they are elusive.
Earlier this year, wildlife filmmaker Andrew Manske captured the first ever footage of a mother with her kits at a den site.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) previously acknowledged that “climate warming over the next century is likely to significantly reduce wolverine habitat, to the point where persistence of wolverines in the contiguous United States, without intervention, is in doubt.”
After years of being challenged for failing to protect wolverines, the agency finally proposed listing them as a threatened species in 2013. Unfortunately, the following year it went back on its decision and declined to protect them yet again, saying it lacked sufficient evidence that climate change would hurt them – despite findings from its own scientists that it would.
Conservation organizations challenged the agency again, which led to this week’s ruling in federal court.
U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen said that it appeared “immense political pressure” from Western states helped drive the decision to deny them protection, adding in his opinion, “It is the [Court’s] view that if there is one thing required of the Service under the ESA, it is to take action at the earliest possible, defensible point in time to protect against the loss of biodiversity within our reach as a nation. For the wolverine, that time is now.”
While the FWS still has a year to reexamine its conclusion and make a new decision, conservationists are celebrating the win in court and are hopeful wolverines will now get the protection they desperately need.
“Today’s win is a victory not just for wolverine but for all species whose fate relies on the scientific integrity of the Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “We call on the agency to stop playing politics and start living up to its mandate to protect our country’s most imperiled species.”