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.