Wolverine Protections Needed

By Beacon Staff

A number of articles have appeared statewide in recent days announcing Montana Fish, Wildlife and Park’s (FWP) decision to oppose threatened status for Montana’s wolverine. Some of these articles have argued that the threats to wolverine populations have nothing to do with trapping, implying that the trapping should therefore continue. This argument flies in the face of reason. And science.

No one will argue that global warming and habitat fragmentation are not playing an important role in compromising wolverine population viability. Nonetheless, and regardless of the causes, FWP has a responsibility to protect our state’s precious wildlife. If there were only a dozen wolverine remaining, would FWP still propose that trapping be permitted simply because it had not caused the problem? The causes are irrelevant.

The cautionary principle alone dictates that insisting upon a few recreational opportunities despite the very real risks that this species faces is an example of gross negligence and irresponsibility on the part of wildlife officials.

It is not enough to say that taking a few individuals is unlikely to harm the population. Wildlife officials themselves have readily admitted that accurate data for wolverine numbers is hard to come by. If there is such uncertainty involved, how can anyone be sure that a quota of five will not do irrevocable harm to population viability? Can a baited trap discriminate between a pregnant and a non-pregnant female? Can it guarantee that the female it catches is not the last remaining fertile female in a local sub-population of several individuals?

Best available science approximates that the effective population (those individuals capable of contributing reproductively to future generations) of wolverine in the entire Northern Rocky Mountains of the United States is roughly 35 individuals. Even if we ignore that some of those individuals live outside of Montana, and even if we assume there are no other non-target trapping casualties above the quota, five is already 15 percent of that number!

This brash intransigence on the part of FWP points to a deeper problem. Namely, the agency is highly politicized, and its claims of scientific objectivity are often a mere façade. FWP often caters to small but powerful interest groups, such as the Montana Trappers Association, and, in doing so, are remiss in their primary duty to manage a public resource for all Montanans, including future generations. There is absolutely no justifiable reason to value a trapper’s recreational whims above science or conservation.

In recent months Footloose Montana has participated in a lawsuit against FWP’s wolverine trapping only because FWP has repeatedly denied requests to reevaluate their priorities on this issue. We regret the necessity of such legal action, but we do hope that the pressure it has brought to bear upon both State and Federal authorities will finally result in much needed protections for the rare and remarkable wolverine.

Filip Panusz is executive director of Footloose Montana.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.