A group of environmental organizations turned the heat up a notch yesterday on the wolverine trapping issue. Here’s the press release from the Western Environmental Law Center . . .
Helena, MT – Today, the Western Environmental Law Center, on behalf of eight conservation groups and one individual, filed a lawsuit to halt wolverine trapping in Montana until the species’ population has recovered.
On December 14, 2010, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service determined that the wolverine deserves federal protection under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). However, the agency also said it could not undertake the necessary rulemaking process for lack of time, so the wolverine remains a “candidate” species awaiting protective status.
Montana is the only state in the Lower 48 that still allows the rare wolverine to be trapped. Montana’s wolverine population is estimated at 100-175 animals, with no more than 35 individuals capable of producing offspring. The current quota in Montana allows five wolverines to be trapped and killed each season. Wolverines are trapped for their fur.
“Wolverines are tough animals, but they need all the help they can get right now in the face of a warming planet with shrinking and increasingly fragmented habitat,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center who is representing the groups. “Trapping wolverine under these circumstances is making an already bleak situation worse.”
Since being designated a “candidate” species for ESA protection, members of the public have submitted extensive comments to the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission asking the agency to end the trapping of wolverines. The Commissioners did not respond or otherwise address these comments. The State also refused to address the merits of a formal petition submitted by Mr. Bishop on behalf of the same eight conservation groups and one individual asking the State to adopt a new rule ending the trapping of wolverines until they are no longer a candidate or listed species under the ESA.
“Montana state law requires Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks to “assist in the maintenance or recovery” of wolverines. We hoped to avoid litigation when we filed our petition in August. Unfortunately, the State refused to consider the science included in our petition and halt the needless trapping of these imperiled animals,” Bishop added.
“So now we’re compelled to follow the only course left open to us, which is to seek judicial review.”
Wolverine require cold climates where deep snow remains into late May so females can dig secure snow caves called “dens” to raise their young. Such conditions are disappearing nationwide due to climate change. Even in Glacier National Park, which holds the largest population of wolverines in Montana, what remains of the Park’s once-vast icefields is melting rapidly, and scientists say the glaciers could be gone completely within 20 years. Warming temperatures are also increasing the distance — and thus fragmentation — between areas of viable wolverine habitat, making it more difficult for the species to successfully reproduce and increasing the likelihood of fatal inbreeding.
Trapping is the major source of wolverine mortality in Montana and has had significant negative effects on subpopulations inhabiting Montana’s small, isolated island ranges. In one study spanning a three year period, of the 14 wolverines researchers followed in the Pioneer Mountains, six were killed in traps, including four adult males and two pregnant females, killing half of the estimated wolverine population there.
“We’re lucky to see wolverine on rare occasions here in the Swan Range of Northwest Montana” said the Swan View Coalition’s Keith Hammer. “This area is where they were first studied back in the 1970s, but trapping killed five times more wolverine than natural causes and killed nearly two-thirds of the wolverines being studied in just five years. Trapping must stop if these rare and wonderful animals are to return from the brink of extinction.”
“This is the right thing to do — morally, scientifically, socially and ecologically — for the future of wolverine and the future of trapping in Montana,” said Gary Ingman, a board member of the Helena Hunters and Anglers Association. “The biological models show that the current population levels are simply not self-sustaining and nowhere near high enough to provide recreational trapping opportunities in Montana.”
The Western Environmental Law Center is representing Helena Hunters and Anglers Association, Friends of the Wild Swan, Montana Ecosystem Defense Council, Native Ecosystems Council, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Swan View Coalition, Wild Earth Guardians, Footloose Montana and Mr. George Wuerthner.
The complaint can be read here: http://www.westernlaw.org/sites/default/files/Complaint..Wolverine.Final_.October.11.2012.pdf
The Western Environmental Law Center is a non-profit public interest law firm that uses the power of the law to defend and protect the American West’s treasured landscapes, iconic wildlife and rural communities.