MT Wolverine Trapping Season Ended, Feds to list species as “Threatened”

Stop-Action of a wolverine in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge national Forest.  Photo by Chad Harder.
Stop-Action of a wolverine in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge national Forest. Photo by Chad Harder.

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%.

9 thoughts on “MT Wolverine Trapping Season Ended, Feds to list species as “Threatened””

  1. OK Matt, you rose me to your Royal Wulff…briefly…

    “The amount of environmental review conducted by MT FWP is a joke since the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) has been watered down so much over the years by our infamous legislatures.”

    How does anyone expect to buy credibility with (unbiased) folks who otherwise might listen with statements like that? Seems like this is pretty much the standard fare (communique???) for enviro groups around these parts. Not disagreeing, mind you, just offering up a “Really!!?!” That’s the way in which ya’ll choose to flavor your message?

    • JZ: A few points:

      1) I didn’t write the post your are referencing. It’s clearly listed as written by Adam Rissien. So your questions are best directed towards him, not me.

      2) What’s a “Royal Wulff?”

      3) What’s up with some of you boys using the word “communique?”

      4) It’s a statement of fact that over the past 3 or 4 MT Legislative sessions that the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) has been “watered down.” Or I guess you could say it’s been “streamlined” as supporters of “watering it down” like to say. If you want specific examples of how MEPA has been “watered down” I guess I’ll drop what I’m doing and dig them up for you. Let me know. Thanks.

  2. Here you go JZ…This is obviously waaay off the topic of the post on wolverines, but if you’re going to toss out the ‘lack of credibility’ card and offer up a “Really!!?!” I guess I’ll respond with this, from MEIC and say, “Yes, Really!!!”

    And keep in mind that what you’ll read below was just from the last Montana Legislative session…previous sessions were more of the same.

    Q: If a court now can’t stop a project from going forward even if the agency failed to comply with MEPA, is that a “watering down” of MEPA or a “streamlining” of MEPA? “You Say Potato, I say….”

    From MEIC:

    By far the most devastating defeat this session was the passage of SB 233 (Sen. Jim Keane, D-Butte). This bill undermines the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) at every turn: it limits the scope of the environmental analysis; it prohibits the State Land Board and many State agencies from relying on information gathered during the MEPA process to make decisions on projects such as Otter Creek; and, most importantly, it provides no recourse if a State agency fails to analyze a project’s impacts, because it allows the project to be built even if the agency’s review is inadequate or nonexistent.

    Most people do not know what MEPA is, or what it does, until a project is proposed in their community. MEPA requires state agencies to consider and disclose the overall impacts of a project or permit prior to making a decision on it. Since 1971, it has been the primary means by which the public has been informed and allowed to participate in State agency decision-making. It is supposed to help State agencies make better decisions. Until now that is.

    This session two very different bills were introduced that attacked MEPA. SB 233 was the brainchild of Leo Berry, the lobbyist for Great Northern Properties (part owner of the Otter Creek coal tracts), Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, Monsanto, Montana Mining Association, Coal Mountain Mining, and others. The other bill was SB 317 (Sen. Chas Vincent, R-Libby). It was written by Jon Metropoulos, lobbyist for Fidelity Exploration and MDU Resources (although he said he was not representing any clients when he lobbied for the bill).

    SB 317 was a wholesale rewrite of MEPA. It reorganized the structure of the law, limited the scope of the analysis, changed MEPA’s purpose and policy, and hamstrung agencies as to what information they could consider in an environmental analysis. MEPA would no longer be about informing decision makers and the public; its purpose would instead be to encourage the development of natural resources.

    Having two different bills created problems. The bills conflicted. They changed the same sections of law in different ways. Both could not be passed. Republicans had held a big press conference when SB 317 was introduced calling it one of their primary jobs bills of the session. They wanted credit for the wholesale gutting of MEPA. But SB 233 was the more destructive of the two bills and it was sponsored by a Democrat. The Republican leadership was in a quandary. They wanted to gut MEPA but the governor was more likely to veto a bill sponsored by a Republican. So the Republicans decided to pass the Democrat’s bill and just amend most of SB 317 into SB 233.

    Their assessment apparently was correct. The governor refused to veto SB 233 and instead let the bill become law. In his “no-veto” statement the governor said, “MEPA has been a popular scapegoat for those whose development projects have failed in Montana. For many years it has been under assault by one industry or legislature after another….” But instead of standing up to wealthy corporate interests and protecting Montanans’ right to participate in government decisions, to a clean and healthful environment, and to judicial redress, he sided with polluters and developers and let one of the most confusing and poorly drafted bills in a decade become law.

    The merging of SB 233 and SB 317 created a Frankenstein. The combined bill has four different provisions that say parts of the bill only go into effect if other things happen. One such contingency says that if the Montana Supreme Court finds one section of the bill to be unconstitutional then another section will go into effect. These contingency provisions are so poorly written they are nearly impossible to decipher.

    At the end of the day, many questions remain. Does MEPA really implement the constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment, as it says in the law, or doesn’t it? If it does, can the Legislature so severely limit the scope of environmental analyses to exclude consideration of such things as global warming impacts of burning coal? Court decisions have found that the Constitution requires State agencies to show that they have chosen the least onerous path when they implicate the fundamental constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment. Can the State comply with this requirement without a rigorous alternatives analysis? Finally, the Montana Constitution provides all Montanans with the right of judicial redress. If a project can go forward without adequate environmental review, is this right undermined? MEIC will weigh these questions, and many more, as it considers what to do about this legislative travesty.

  3. Geez Matt, guess I hit a button…

    So I cut and pasted the whole paragraph. I have no knowledge/interest in MEPA. My issue was with the “it’s a joke” statement. Not over the substance of the arguement, mind you, just the presentation. Sorry, I tend to stop reading when such opinionated views are use to make a point. Especially in a comminique to members. I guess that’s what people make their donations for though. Vanilla isn’t as catchy…

    2) Think “River runs thru it”, not anything to do with wolves or other furbearers (that we’ve seemingly strayed from on these comments for sure!)

    3) Why do so many of “ya’ll” like to use the word “massive”???

    • JZ, not so much that you hit a button, but I do hate being held accountable for stuff other people write and say….Hope you can understanding. This hanger-on of a sinus cold/cough doesn’t help either.

      Again, I’m not telling you what to do, but if you have an issue with the “it’s a joke” statement, you may want to take your complaint to the person who made the statement. Perhaps don’t use a common phrase “it’s a joke” to cast a wide net over the entire environmental movement and then toss in the word “communique” for good measure.

      2) I do like me some River Runs Through it ….”I am haunted by waters….”

      3) I don’t believe I use the word “massive” very much, unless something truly is massive. So again, you’re asking me questions as if I’m the answer man for the entire environmental movement. Here’s a suggestion, next time you see adjectives in articles you don’t agree with, or you take issue with, contact the author directly. Thanks.

  4. If anyone uses other people’s words to support their position, they need to talk about what they agree with, and what they don’t. You cannot post something and then deflect the fallout, saying “not my words”.

    I find it “interesting” that the wolverine issue has become a “shell game”. With so few verified animals, and so much habitat, is it good to ban all motorized winter recreation, when habitat occupancy is merely suspected? I know that wolverines deserve protections but, it seems like the goal is more about eliminating motorized travel, than species protections. If a particular area is known to harbor wolverines, how did they survive the decades of uncontrolled recreational usage?

    Now, I am not for “free range” motorized travel but, there should be more solid reasons for banning snowmobile use. Additionally, there should be plenty of non-occupied lands that people can recreate on. I can’t understand why trapping of wolverines should be allowed.

    • So, Larry, practically speaking, every time one of us posts an article that someone else wrote, we need to comb through the article and let everyone else on this list know what we agree with and what we don’t? Ah, yeah, that ain’t gonna happen…at least not by me. Thanks, but that’s just really a ridiculous request.

      However, I’m glad you stated “I can’t understand why trapping of wolverines should be allowed.” Me neither, and most people, even in a state like Montana, appear to feel the same way. Also, I’m not for “free range” motorized travel either, and I agree with you that “There should be plenty of non-[wolverine] occupied lands that people can recreate on.”

      • If you post something and don’t explain your views, we have to then assume that you fully agree with everything in it, regardless of the writer’s intentions and agenda(s). I like to point out extremist points of view (both sides) in all postings, including my own. I prefer to add my own words, instead of saying “not my words”.


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