Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wolverines denied federal protection

Given ‘candidate species’ designation

Express Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of SNRA. A wolverine is photographed by a remote camera in February as part of an SNRA study.

Even though wolverines are threatened with extinction, they will not receive federal protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Monday.

Wolverines will be listed as a "candidate species," meaning that they are eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act. However, the service said there are other, more high-priority species on the same list, and listing wolverines under federal protection will have to wait for now, though the species will undergo an annual review.

"There are reasons to be concerned about the long-term persistence of wolverines," said Robin Garwood, a wildlife biologist with the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. "Even though wolverines won't be protected by ESA for now, I think it highlights the importance of ensuring that remaining habitat, including habitat on the Sawtooth Forest, is kept as intact as possible."

The list of candidate species also includes the greater sage grouse, a native Idaho bird whose habitat has been threatened. In March, the grouse was listed as needing protection, but was also put on the waiting list.

Wolverines are only found in areas with deep, persistent snow and very cold temperatures, as deep snow cover is necessary for reproductive denning. Female wolverines have been known to abandon dens if temperatures become too warm or snow becomes too wet.

The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 400 breeding pairs are needed throughout the United States to sustain the species' population. It reports that no more than 300 wolverines live in the lower 48 states, and many are non-breeding juveniles.

The agency also reports that backcountry recreationists may have an impact on wolverines and reproductive habits, though very little is known about the effect. A study to determine the effects of recreation on wolverines is underway in the Payette and Boise National Forests. Garwood said the study may expand to the SNRA next year if funding is available.

Katherine Wutz:

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