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Wolverines are now protected under the Endangered Species Act

A furry black and brown wolverine walks beside a pine tree in the snow.
Chris Stermer/AP
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California Department of Fish and Wildlife
A wolverine in the Tahoe National Forest near Truckee, Calif., a rare sighting of the predator in the state. There are only a few hundred left in the continental United States, but activists are optimistic that with federal help, the wolverine can recover.

After a decades-long battle to protect wolverines under the Endangered Species Act, the federal government has listed them as a “threatened” species.

It’s estimated that there are only a few hundred wolverines in the wild in the continental United States. Their preferred habitat – snow-capped mountains – is becoming more and more scarce due to climate change.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the wolverine is today found at alpine levels in Montana, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming and Oregon. They have been spotted very rarely in California and are believed to be absent altogether from Colorado, where they formerly lived in the Rocky Mountains.

But the outlook for wolverines just got better thanks to the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Tim Preso, an attorney with the nonprofit EarthJustice, said it's a huge move that could go a long way toward saving the species.

“There's certainly more work to do,” Preso said. “But it is definitely a victory because this is a species that we've been campaigning for, as you know, for 21 years. And it's certainly gratifying to see the government finally agree that the science demonstrates that this species needs protection.”

Preso said the government’s decision “also opens up the door to new recovery efforts for wolverines that can do something to help it face the threat that is presented by climate change.”

Exactly how this will impact land development, trapping policy, and recreation will be determined in the coming years.

“There may be some additional planning needed to make sure that our expanding footprint of backcountry winter activities, like snowmobiling and backcountry skiing, doesn't leave wolverines with too little undisturbed habitat left for their survival,” Preso said.

Preso also said the decision could stimulate a plan to reintroduce wolverines to Colorado.

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