Wolverine listing delay leading to lawsuit

Ten environmental organizations, including Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity, intend to suethe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to compel the agency to list wolverines (Gulo gulo)under the Endangered Species Act. The latest in a 20-year effort to gain ESA listing for the largest member of the weasel family, the intent to sue comes four years after the Service announced they would once again take public comments regarding the listing status of wolverines.

Wolverines are found throughout Alaska and Canada, with their range extending into the North Cascades in Washington and the Northern Rocky Mountains in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Wyoming in the contiguous United States. The Service estimates the wolverine population in the contiguous United States at approximately 250 to 300 individuals, although it cannot be determined with certainty since a systematic population census has never been complete. However, survey work, coordinated by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, is underway.

In 2013, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the distinct population segment of wolverines occurring in the contiguous U.S. as threatened under the ESA, based on threats to the wolverine and its habitat due to climate change. The following year, it withdrew this proposal, stating in a press release that “after carefully considering the best available science, the Service has determined that the effects of climate change are not likely to place the wolverine in danger of extinction now or in the foreseeable future.”

Several environmental organizations brought three separate lawsuits (which were later consolidated into one) in 2014, challenging the Service’s decision to withdraw its listing proposal. In 2016, the court vacated the Service’s withdrawal of the listing proposal and ordered the agency to reconsider the issue.

In response, the Service in 2016 reopened the public comment period on the 2013 proposal and initiated a status review under the ESA. That review has not been completed and the agency has not taken any public action on the proposal in the intervening years. The environmental organizations filed the notice and intend to sue if the Service does not list wolverines in the next 60 days.

Header Image: Several organizations intend to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to compel them to list the wolverine under the Endangered Species Act. Photo Credit: Amy Macleod via NPS