The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that they are considering classifying the wolverine as a threatened species in the lower 48 states of the United States under the Endangered Species Act.
“Extensive climate modeling indicates that the wolverine’s snowpack habitat will be greatly reduced and fragmented in the coming years due to climate warming, thereby threatening the species with extinction,” a USFWS news release stated.
While the merit of the proposed reclassification will certainly be debated by the scientific community and the public, it is a side effect of the proposal that could impact trappers most.
“The Service is seeking input on the appropriateness of prohibiting incidental take of wolverine in the course of legal trapping activities directed at other species,” the USFWS release stated.
The immediate impact would be the end of wolverine trapping in Montana, which is the only state in the Lower 48 that currently has a wolverine trapping season. But of even greater concern is the effect wolverine protection could have on trapping regulations in the handful of states deemed to have critical habitat for the wolverine, which has an estimated population of 250 to 300 in the Lower 48.
States that would likely be influenced include Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming. Colorado, which has habitat where the USFWS hopes to spread new wolverine populations, would also likely be affected. California and New Mexico, where wolverine populations existed previously but do not any longer, might also be deemed to include critical wolverine habitat.
If the USFWS concludes the wolverine is in need of federal protection, it is imperative that they carefully consider the impact of any new trapping restrictions they enforce.
But the fate of trapping regulations following a wolverine reclassification would not be entirely in the hands of the USFWS either. It could be left to judges. Animal rights groups would likely file lawsuits calling for additional trapping restrictions or the outright ban of trapping in states with critical habitat for wolverines. The groups have pursued similar lawsuits in states with critical habitat for lynx and wolves in the past.
The USFWS will open a 90-day comment period beginning Feb. 4 to allow for public comment regarding the proposed listing before they make a decision. More information on how to comment on the proposed protection will be available on the USFWS website on Feb. 4.