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Wildlife

Montana Files Notice of Intent to Sue Over Wolverine Listing

About 300 surviving animals in the contiguous U.S. live in fragmented, isolated groups at high elevations in the northern Rocky Mountains

By Tristan Scott
Wolverine. Shutterstock image

Less than two months after federal wildlife officials recommended Endangered Species Act protections for the North American wolverine, whose diminishing alpine habitat scientists have recognized as imperiled by climate change for decades, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) on Friday notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) of its intent to challenge the listing in court.

“In Montana, wolverines continue to do well and inhabit much, if not all, of their available habitat,” FWP’s Chief of Conservation Policy Quentin Kujala stated in an agency press release. “We work closely with our neighboring states to ensure the continued conservation of these iconic species. Federal protections in this case will only get in the way of good conservation work.”

Specifically, state wildlife officials took issue with how their federal counterparts’ “switched course” in their listing notice by identifying the lower 48 states as a distinct population segment instead of as connected to Canadian wolverine populations in Canada. The finding came despite protections in Canada and states like Montana to ensure wolverine conservation, according to FWP.

In its listing, the FWS also used climate models from the year 2100 to point to a projected decrease in snowpack to justify its move, which FWP argues runs counter to “recent science that shows wolverines are adaptable and able to den and reproduce without snow.”

“In the Northern Rockies, wolverines are doing well and states are working closely on monitoring and conservation efforts. This listing is not only unnecessary, it fails to recognize current science,” FWP Director Dustin Temple stated in the press release.  

Indeed, prior to the November 2023 decision by FWS to list wolverines as a threatened species, it had waffled over whether threats to the elusive mammal warrant listing. A report published last September as an addendum to the 2018 Species Status Assessment saw FWS reverse several of its conclusions that were previously cited as a reason to deny the wolverine the federal designation.

“Core wolverine habitats are projected to become smaller and more fragmented in the future as the result of climate change and human disturbance,” according to the report, which reviewed more than 180 publications from the intervening years as well as hundreds of new wolverine observation records. “Overall, future wolverine populations in the contiguous U.S. may be less secure than we described in our 2018 SSA.”

The first step in challenging this listing is filing a Notice of Intent to Sue with the FWS, a step that FWP took Friday.

“Following this action, the state will file a lawsuit in federal district court,” according to FWP’s press release.

Following FWP’s announcement of its intent to challenge the listing, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte issued a prepared statement calling the Biden administration’s decision “illogical and ill-informed.”

“In Montana, we’ve worked hard to manage and conserve the wolverine population and have partnered with neighboring states on research and monitoring efforts to ensure the future conservation of the species,” the Republican governor stated. “Adding a layer of unnecessary bureaucracy does nothing for conservation but does everything to undermine our responsible management of this species.”

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