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Victory for wolverine

WildEarth Guardians v. Jewell et al.
Case No.
Date Filed
October 20, 2014
State, Venue
Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Montana Federal District Court
Matt Bishop (WELC), John Mellgren (WELC), Sarah McMillan
A decisive win for one of North America’s most enigmatic species came in April 2016 when a judge in the Montana Federal District Court rejected a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to deny protections for the wolverine in the contiguous United States. The court ruled that the Service ignored the best available science about climate change when making its decision not to list the wolverine under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Scientists estimate that nearly two-thirds of the snowy habitat required by wolverine will be gone by the end of the century. The Service originally identified climate change among the primary threats to wolverine, yet the proposed “threatened” listing was replaced at the last minute—a total about-face—with the Service claiming instead that wolverine did not warrant protections due to too many “uncertainties.” Our victory gives hope not only to the 250 to 300 remaining wolverine that call the western U.S. home, but also to all species whose habitat is affected by climate change.

A petition for ESA protections for the wolverine was first filed in 2000. The Service deemed that petition lacked the adequate evidence to justify listing the animal. The decision was overturned by a federal court in 2006. The Service then issued a negative 12-month finding in 2008, which was challenged in court resulting in a settlement that led to a new finding that wolverine should be protected under the ESA, but that other priorities precluded the listing at that time. A landmark settlement with WildEarth Guardians, which resolves the backlog of imperiled species awaiting protections, then guaranteed a new finding for the wolverine. In February 2013, the Service proposed listing the wolverine as “threatened” under the ESA. In August 2014, however, the Service reversed course and issued a decision not to list the species, contradicting its own expert scientists’ recommendations. The ruling is in response to the organizations’ legal challenge to that decision. The ruling reinstates the proposed listing rule and requires the Service to make a new final determination.