Groups threaten to sue for wolverine protections

Greenwire today: “Groups threaten to sue for wolverine protections.” Excerpt:

Wolverines are the largest members of the weasel family, but they look more like small bears with bushy tails. Conservation groups say the animals need to be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Ten groups want to force the federal government to protect the elusive wolverines.

The groups estimate there are around 300 wolverines left, sparsely scattered across the Mountain West, including Idaho, Washington and Oregon. Their young depend on snowy, high-altitude habitat that could disappear as the climate warms.

Gary Macfarlane is with the advocacy group Friends of the Clearwater, which signed on to sue federal agencies if they don’t add wolverines to the endangered species list in 60 days. The notice of intent to sue includes 10 groups.

The article cites winter recreation (esp. snowmobiles) as a factor. But if climate is the main factor in a Wolverine decline, there isn’t much the agencies can do about it, except to protect habitat as warming progresses.


13 thoughts on “Groups threaten to sue for wolverine protections”

  1. I’ve read a couple of stories about snowmobile vs. other backcountry winter rec and environmental impacts. I’ll try to dig them up.

  2. I think I remember seeing wolverines mentioned in marking prescriptions. There were canopy cover requirements to be met, even though the critter hadn’t been seen there in decades. Wildlife Biologists had suspicions that wolverines were around but, they just hadn’t been seen. Since thinning projects left so much canopy coverage anyway, why not mention wolverine ‘protections’ in the marking prescriptions?

  3. Well hello, there’s actually a lot the BLM and USFS can do in addition to protecting habitat!
    From Steve’s post, “But if climate is the main factor in a Wolverine decline, there isn’t much the agencies can do about it, except to protect habitat as warming progresses.”

    1 — They can start by doing a thorough, realistic analysis of the climate effects of proposed projects. The climate analysis included in NEPA docs on Mt Hood NF is laughable. BLM in western Oregon used to do a much better job than USFS but I hear they’ve been backsliding.
    Mt. Hood NF recently approved the construction of a large new parking lot @ Mt. Hood Meadows ski area. Geez, if ever an industry operating on public land should be proactive about climate change it’s the ski industry!! To their credit, Meadows at least has a decent busing system to reduce car traffic. Timberline Ski Area, also on Hood, does ZIP in that realm; they pay lip service to climate but continue with business as usual.
    Anyway, back to climate analysis in NEPA — I haven’t made time to look but my bet is the EA done for that ski area parking expansion did a very minimal analysis of the climate impacts of an additional 150 cars driving to the mountain many weekends each ski season for the next 10 years. The carbon produced by all those cars will be significant.

    2 — They can manage for carbon storage, or whatever term you care to use, rather than 2 x 4’s! Foresters and our federal forests can play a direct, active role in mitigating climate change.
    But that ain’t gonna happen as long as sooo many NF’s are being managed under LRMP’s that were adopted 30 years ago using science from the 1980’s! What a joke!
    Show me a successful private business that hasn’t done a major overhaul of it’s business plan in 30 years to include advances in science, technology and other areas critical to its successful operation.

    It’s going to take a change in leadership direction, attitudes and technical skills for the agencies to up their game re: climate change. BUT if they don’t they may have to get out of the tree growing business!

    A BLM silviculturist told me during the Western Oregon Plan Revision process, about 5 years ago, that ambient air temps, in southern Oregon, during parts of some summers are already too high for Doug fir to photosynthesize so the trees shut down. The climate modeling they had done for that planning process did not paint a pretty picture for the future.

    Boy if anything should make a timber beast shudder it’s the prospect of not being able to grow Doug fir in western Oregon. Can you say local jobs in mills? OSU forestry school? Survival of rural towns?

    As Bob Dylan sang many years ago, “….the times they are a changin’ .” If fed land managers can’t change and find creative, forward looking solutions they may find themselves listed on the ESA!!! LOL !

    Each one of us can play an active role in altering climate change; we each have things we can influence and personal behaviors we can change.
    Each time someone tells me they’re glad this is a mild winter in Western Oregon I weave this into the conversation: “But do you know that the farmers in the Hood River valley depend on snowpack for their irrigation supply? And that this week, Jan. 27, the snow level on Mt. Hood will be in the 6000 – 7000 foot range. That’s not normal and if things don’t shift it could be a bad summer for farmers and salmon.”

  4. I believe this is an attempt to influence the ongoing Travel Plan revision on the Clearwater National Forest. Some people don’t like to have access considerations for motorized and bicycle recreation. Several alternatives are rich with shared recreation backcountry access, whether or not an area is Recommended Wilderness. This threatened lawsuit is designed to attach threatened status to wolverines over a broader area, but this is about the Clearwater first, then to hamstring all Forest and Travel planning across the northern Rockies. I know this sounds like a conspiracy theory, but I think the desired outcome is to shut down as much recreation as they can.

  5. Steve: “But if climate is the main factor in a Wolverine decline, there isn’t much the agencies can do about it, except to protect habitat as warming progresses.”

    I think that is the right answer. Even if what we can do to help won’t help much, that is not an excuse to not do it. It is a requirement for forest plans to contribute to recovery of listed species (and proposed species, the current status of wolverine), and to provide conditions for viable populations of other species of conservation concern.

    Here is what the FWS said about threats to the species in 2010:
    “The Service concludes that because of the projected impact of climate change on wolverine habitat, the wolverine DPS and its habitat should be protected under the ESA.”

    “Other factors may have smaller impacts on wolverines at local scales, and considered cumulatively with climate change, may constitute threats to the wolverine. These secondary factors include wolverine harvest in Montana, dispersed recreational use such as backcountry skiing, snowmobiling, off-road motorized use, infrastructure development, and transportation corridors. Some of the secondary threats above require further research to verify impacts to wolverines and possible mitigation of those impacts. The Service expects that federal land management agencies will address these potential impacts as scientific information becomes available that will enable an appropriate response.”

    I think that last sentence puts the burden on federal land managers to make decisions that do not adversely affect wolverines. (Trapping is no longer allowed in Montana.)

    • But even if you kicked all the people out from their habitat, if you think the species is endangered from climate change, then conceivably it would ultimately do no good. ?

      • If you are saying the short-term mitigation won’t prevent long-term extinction, yes, that could be the result. I’m just saying there’s nothing in ESA that allows an agency to write-off a species; they have to try. (There is the “god-squad” provision that lets an interagency higher authority, the “endangered species committee,” do that, but it has rarely been done.)

        • Agreed: there’s nothing in ESA that allows an agency to write-off a species; they have to try. All I said is that the USFS can’t do much about the main threat: climate change. In the long run, everything the USFS might do to protect habitat, control impacts from recreation, etc., may come to naught.

        • I remember a bat in the Midwest where the problem was disease and the answer was to stop timber harvesting. It was the same logic.
          1. Something we can’t help (or at least currently don’t know how to) is hurting a species.
          2. Therefore we need to stop doing other things that impact the species, so it will keep going longer and hopefully the key problem will go away (or evolution will work).

          As I recall, someone worked out some kind of deal. How these deals are done and who is in the room when it’s decided has always been mysterious to me.

          • In the case of white-nose syndrome in bats, buying time by minimizing other threats may help the species get through the bottleneck of developing resistance to the non-native disease (which has been observed in some individuals of some species). There is also now a vaccine that could help. I’m not aware of a “deal,” but here is a lot information, including a link to a “voluntary guidance” guidance for forest managers.

            With climate change, it’s harder to be optimistic, but that’s built into ESA.

    • Jon, while the agencies can indeed do much to protect existing habitat, they can’t do much about climate change. The IPCC stated in its 2014 assessment, “Many aspects of climate change and associated impacts will continue for centuries, even if anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are stopped.”

      • Similarly, if we could magically-fix the climate, we would still have overstocked forests and intense firestorms. We can only effectively control one corner of the fire triangle. We also cannot reduce much of the human-caused wildfires. In fact, I see them increasing, as our population increases.


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