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Feds to backpedal on wolverine protection

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Are wolverines in the U.S. doomed by global warming?

Leaked memo suggests USFWS is bowing to political pressure from western states

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Federal officials apparently won’t let the best available science stop them from making yet another politically motivated endangered species decision.

This time, wolverines are at issue, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prepares to withdraw a proposal to list the rare mammal based on threats posed by global warming. The agency hasn’t officially announced its intention, but a leaked memo  shows that USFWS Mountain-Prairie regional director Noreen Walsh wants to override the recommendations of her own scientists and withdraw the listing proposal.

Citing uncertainty about how global warming will affect wolverine habitat, Walsh wrote: “I do not believe that climate change poses a threat to wolverine or its habitat in the foreseeable future such that the wolverine warrants listing under the ESA.”

Yet in 2011, a detailed study including regional climate projections found that wolverine habitat could be wiped off the map by global warming as early as mid-century.

Global warming threatens wolverines by reducing or eliminating the springtime snow cover that wolverines rely on for raising their young, and increasing August temperatures well beyond what the species may be able to tolerate.

Wolverines make their home mainly in the boreal forests and tundra regions of North America, Europe and Asia. Their thick oily fur insulates wolverines from frost, and large padded paws help them run through deep snow.

They inhabit regions that have late-season snow cover and relatively cool summer temperatures, with daily highs averaging 72 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Female wolverines make their springtime dens in the snow, which provides warmth to the newborn kits and protects them from predators.

The agency’s backpedaling on wolverines drew an outraged response from conservation advocates, who accused Walsh of caving to political pressure from western states. Idaho, Montana and Wyoming all opposed the listing.

“The Obama administration’s own scientists have said for years that global warming is pushing wolverines toward extinction, and now those conclusions are being cast aside for political convenience,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is a bizarre and disturbing turn, especially for an administration that’s vowed to let science rule the day when it comes to decisions about the survival of our most endangered wildlife,” Greenwald said in a press release.

Anticipating the controversy that’s sure to arise, Walsh wrote in her memo that her decision wasn’t influenced by state officials: “I emphasize that while state agencies are our primary partners in conservation, the detennination I have come to as stated in this memo about the wolverine’s status under the Endangered Species Act is mine alone, and has not been influenced in any way by 8 state representative.”

The USFWS first proposed wolverines for listing in early 2013 ” due to the likelihood of habitat loss caused by climate change resulting in population decline leading to breakdown of metapopulation dynamics.”

The early science suggested that wolverine habitat could shrink by 31 percent in the next 30 years and 63 percent during the next 75 years, “rendering remaining wolverine habitat significantly smaller and more fragmented.”

According to Walsh, climate models aren’t accurate enough to predict how global warming will affect wolverine habitat at a meaningful scale, but the agency’s own scientists say there’s no science to suggest that there won’t be a significant impact.

 

 

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One Response

  1. First, to address the quoted summation by USFWS regional director Noreen Walsh:
    FWS on current habitat: “wolverines are found in the North Cascades in Washington and the Northern Rocky Mountains in Idaho, Montana, Oregon (Wallowa Range), and Wyoming. Individual [male; females tend to disperse far less widely - MM] wolverines have also moved into historic range in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California and the Southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado, but have not established breeding populations in these areas.”
    This means that available historical habitat remains unoccupied. Please see http://www.boalt.org/elq/documents/5Brauer.pdf by Stephanie Brauer for a discussion on “ESA’s ineffectiveness at promoting species recovery instead of merely preventing their extinction.”

    Some may know that the wolverine requires cold, and that some other mammals also become endangered by warm temperatures. The main reason that wolves often shift from day hunting in winter to night hunting in summer is due to their high metabolic rate (discussion of this canid is worthy of exploration for many physiological, ecological, psychosocial, and other reasons; I encourage everyone interested in North American fauna, mammals, carnivores, flora, ecosystems, and even human psychology, to gain a wider understanding of mentioned species.) and cold temperature adaptation The American Pika is another, one which cannot survive 78 degree Fahrenheit for any period of time.
    This lagomorph, or rabbit relative, is relevant to note, as Ms. Walsh’s rejection of conservative (NOT a political definition, but meaning cautiously careful of species survival) determination in the face of significant speedy climate change, can doom native species, and her ruling is thus particularly unsound and inappropriate.
    Even up there in Summit County, in the highest state, you all know what is meant by the term “Sky Islands”, the mountain ranges to your south and in the Great Basin, which poke through the Arid lower West into Montane, Subalpine, and Alpine climates, in effect, tundra and boreal forest islands of unique life in Western North America.
    Well, these islands, like the low atolls of the Pacific and Indian Oceans are now, and will increasingly be, drowned out, inundated by climate change.
    Flora and fauna which do not tolerate the warmth that a tropical primate enjoys, will drown in the heat. 9 of 25 American Pika island mountain habitats have disappeared so far by this heat, and in those mountain islands, the Pika is gone, killed by anthropogenic atmospheric heating.

    In Ms. Walsh’s flawed decision, she prevents natural reestablishment of the Wolverine. Although she claims not to be politically swayed, and to have made this decision herself after evaluation, a number of actions by USFWS have been clearly corrupted by special interests, private and political. I suggest that interested parties pursue active suit against this continued administrative failure to protect and restore the natural integrity of intact living systems.

    This wild, self-willed world is what gives you sustenance and resilience, and the fullest experience of living. It is your birthright, as well as the birthright of this fierce independent spirit of winter, the Wolverine. Do not forsake his kind, for their fate may well be one with the fate you visit upon yourself, yours, and all you presently value.

    Thank you, Bob, and all of the Voices of Summit County.

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