Federal Agency Declares Lower 48 Wolverines Healthy

Oct 9, 2020

Credit Jonathan Othén, via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced Thursday, October 8, that wolverines in the lower 48 are healthy and will not be put on the threatened species list under the Endangered Species Act.

The wolverine looks like a small bear with a bushy tail and is related to the weasel family. In 2013, the FWS proposed to list the wolverine in the lower 48 as extinct.

Back then, it wasn't known whether the U.S. population connected with the Canadian population. Justin Shoemaker, FWS recovery biologist, said the approximately 300 wolverines in the lower 48 are in fact descendents of those that migrated.

"They're descendants of wolverines that have migrated down from a larger population in Canada," said Shoemaker. "So, there's still kind of activity going on with wolverines in the lower 48 and wolverines in Canada. So that's still happening, which is good for genetics."

Another threat includes climate change since the animal needs snow to den in the springtime. John Guinotte, FWS Spatial Ecologist, said that could prevent the wolverines from denning.

"What we found was that there was still several hundred kilometers of snow being retained through the spring, when wolverines potentially would need that snow for denning" he said.

Environmental groups believe the research is inaccurate and that the wolverine should be protected.

"This appalling decision puts wolverines on the path to extinction," said Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "By refusing to provide life-saving protections to these extraordinary animals, the federal government once again ignores climate change science. We've been fighting for decades to protect the wolverine's future, and we aren't about to stop now."

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Kamila Kudelska, at kkudelsk@uwyo.edu.