Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wolverines could gain federal protection

Species proposed for ‘threatened’ status

Express Staff Writer

The elusive wolverine could soon be protected under federal law, but one local wildlife official says the ruling might be based on research that isn’t yet final.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Feb. 1 that it was proposing listing the North American Wolverine under the Endangered Species Act. Though the species would not be considered endangered, it would enjoy federal protections as a result of the listing.

The agency stated that the wolverine’s snowpack habitat will be “greatly reduced and fragmented” in the coming years due to climate change.

Sawtooth National Recreation Area wildlife biologist Robin Garwood said in an interview that she believes the listing is justified due to the threat to wolverine habitat.

“Persistent snow is key for wolverines. It’s key for denning,” she said.

She said persistent snow is snow that falls and sticks on the ground through late May—mostly on northern aspects of slopes and in shaded spruce bottoms.

Garwood estimated there are a total of roughly 20 wolverines in the northern end of the Sawtooth National Forest—in the Sawtooth Mountains, the Smoky Mountains and the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains. Garwood and her research team have captured eight of the animals over the past two years as part of a study regarding recreation and how it affects wolverine movements and reproduction.

Garwood said she is concerned that the proposed listing, though justified, might be premature, as the results of her recreation study have not been released.

“[The listing] talks about the study and it implies that there are results, when there are really not,” she said. “Conclusions can’t be drawn—we haven’t analyzed wolverine movements.”

The listing proposal says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not believe that recreational activities such as snowmobiling and backcountry skiing, along with timber harvesting, threaten wolverines. Such activities would still be allowed under the listing.

Garwood said that even though the listing might be early, it will likely still draw attention to the shrinking wolverine population and perhaps provide for further study.

“We hope it brings attention to the animal a little more,” she said. “That usually brings funding.”

Kate Wutz:

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