The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service faces a pending lawsuit from conservation groups who argue the agency has taken too long to protect wolverines under the Endangered Species Act.
In 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen of Missoula rebuked the Fish and Wildlife Service for withdrawing its earlier proposal to list the wolverine as "threatened," and ordered the agency to reconsider its decision.
"No greater level of certainty is needed to see the writing on the wall for this snow-dependent species standing squarely in the path of global climate change," Christensen wrote. "It's the undersigned's view that if there is one thing required of the service under the E.S.A. it is to take action at the earliest possible, defensible point in time to protect against the loss of biodiversity within our reach as a nation. For the wolverine, that time is now."
More than three and a half years later, FWS has yet to take action.
"They have sat on their hands and taken no steps forward, even blowing their own internal deadlines to come out with a new rule," said Andrea Santarsiere, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the ten groups announcing last week their intent to sue.
In proposing in 2013 to list the wolverine, the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote that "the wolverine's snowpack habitat will be greatly reduced and fragmented in the coming years due to climate warming, thereby threatening the species with extinction." At the time the the agency counted an estimated 250 to 300 wolverines living mostly in the North Cascades Range in Washington and the Northern Rockies of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
"That small population size puts them at risk of extinction," Santarsiere said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service did not respond to a request for comment.
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This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center For the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.