Back on a warm and sunny day in August, we told you that the Western Environmental Law Center, on behalf of eight local conservation groups and one individual, submitted a formal petition to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission (“MFWP”) to halt the trapping of wolverine in Montana – the only state in the contiguous U.S. that still allows the imperiled animal to be trapped.
Well, yesterday a Montana District Court judge signed an order, effectively ending the 2012/2013 wolverine trapping season in Montana, because it appears as if the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is likely to issue a proposed rule to list wolverine as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) in the coming weeks. You may recall that back in 2010 the USFWS issued a “warranted but precluded” finding.
I’ve had the good fortune of seeing a wolverine in the wild pretty close up, back in 1996 at the very tippy-top of the Mission Mountain Wilderness. Given that wolverines are such rare, widely displaced animals, with an “effective population” in Montana of less than 35, I certainly welcome this news and congratulate the groups and activists who made it possible. Below is a press release from the conservation groups:
(Helena) Montana District Court Judge Sherlock signed an order today granting a joint motion from the State of Montana and the conservation groups to cancel a preliminary injunction hearing scheduled for January 10th to see if the injunction stopping wolverine trapping should remain in place. Today’s order effectively ends the 2012-2013 wolverine trapping season in Montana.
The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) filed a lawsuit on behalf of several conservation groups in October 2012 in state district court against the State of Montana to end the trapping of wolverines, a candidate species awaiting federal Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) protections. Helena Hunters and Anglers, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, and 6 other conservation groups’ request for a temporary restraining order to suspend wolverine trapping in Montana was granted on November 30, 2012.
“Common sense prevailed” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center who is representing the plaintiffs. “With the 2012-2013 wolverine trapping season effectively over, new leadership at the State, and the likely federal listing of wolverines as a threatened species in the coming months, Montana is well positioned to take a leading role in wolverine conservation in the lower 48. I hope the State takes advantage of this opportunity” added Bishop.
“This is great news that this year’s wolverine trapping season is over,” said Swan View Coalition Chair Keith Hammer. “Hopefully, wolverine will soon gain the threatened species protections they need so desperately, including a permanent ban on the intentional killing of wolverines.”
Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies said, “We’re happy to see the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks make the right decision and agree to keep the restraining order in place. The Bullock administration is getting off to a good start.”
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is likely to issue a proposed rule to list wolverine as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) in the coming weeks. A proposed rule is expected to be sent to the Federal Register by January 18, 2013. Wolverines will likely be listed under the Endangered Species Act and federally protected before the next wolverine trapping season starts.
Arlene Montgomery,Program Director for Friends of the Wild Swan said, “Wolverine are the real winners with this agreement. With the threat of trapping off the table for this season, the agency can now focus on recovering wolverines.”
Once prolific across the West, the entire population of wolverine in the Lower 48 states is now down to no more than 250-300 individuals. Population estimates for Montana range from approximately 100 – 175 individuals. A substantial number of the remaining wolverines in Montana are likely unsuccessful breeders or non- breeding sub-adults. The best available science estimates that Montana’s “effective population” of wolverines is less than 35. Montana is the only place in the contiguous states that still allows trapping these rare animals.
Much like polar bears, global climate change is imperiling wolverines due to habitat destruction. Wolverines require deep, late-spring snowpack for denning and raising young and cold year- round temperatures. As suitable habitat is fragmented or vanishes, populations become ever more isolated and reproduction becomes much more difficult.
WELC, on behalf of eight conservation groups and an individual, petitioned Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to halt trapping in August, well before the season was slated to start on December 1, 2012. But the State refused to consider the best available science or arguments made in support of the petition. Nor did the State provide any response to public comments asking for the end of wolverine trapping. Consequently, the conservation groups filed suit in state district court in October, challenging continued trapping as a violation of state laws requiring maintenance or restoration of rare animals.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the wolverine as a species that “warrants protection under the federal Endangered Species Act” in 2010 after determining that the already small and vulnerable population will continue to decline. Trapping represents and additional threat to wolverine mortality in Montana. In one study, of the 14 wolverines tracked in the Pioneer Mountains during a three-year period, 6 were killed in traps, including 4 adult males and two pregnant females. As a result of trapping, the wolverine population in the Pioneers was reduced by an estimated 50%.