Mere minutes after the ink was dry on a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to withdraw a proposal to protect the wolverine under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, environmentalists announced they'd be hauling the agency into court over the decision.
On Wednesday, the environmental law firm Earthjustice formally put USFWS on notice that unless the agency follows the recommendations of its own scientists and listed the wolverine, Gulo gulo, as a Threatened species, Earthjustice will sue USFWS on behalf of nine other environmental groups. A few hours earlier, the Western Environmental Law Center and Wild Earth Guardians said they'd be filing a similar suit on behalf of themselves, ten additional green groups, and an individual wildlife biologist.
Though USFWS scientists have unanimously agreed that the wolverine faces possible extinction as a result of climate change (and we go into why here,) USFWS Regional Director Noreen Walsh ordered the listing process for the species scrapped in late May, an order that was backed up by Director Dan Ashe this week.
"The Service's decision not to list wolverines failed to address all of the multiple threats to this highly imperiled species," said Kylie Paul, Rockies and Plains Representative with Defenders of Wildlife, a party in Earthjustice's likely suit. "With a population of only 250-300 in the lower 48, low genetic diversity, one of the lowest successful reproductive rates known for mammals and a gauntlet of threats to their habitat, protections are vital. Wolverines warrant federal protections under the Endangered Species Act now, regardless of the Service's opinions of climate change impacts."
The roster of groups who've signed on to one of the two pending lawsuits is fairly impressive. Aside from Defenders, Earthjustice will be representing the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Friends of the Clearwater, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Idaho Conservation League, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, and Rocky Mountain Wild.
Parties to the suit being filed by the Western Environmental Law Center and Wild Earth Guardians also include Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Cascadia Wildlands, the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center, Footloose Montana, Friends of the Bitterroot, Friends of the Wild Swan, Kootenai Environmental Alliance, Oregon Wild, the Swan View Coalition, and wildlife biologist George Wuerthner.
Earthjustice's notice of intent to sue USFWS over the listing decision makes a blunt charge against USFWS management, saying the agency
... violated the ESA in its determination that the North American wolverine distinct population segment in the contiguous United States is not threatened or endangered. The Service failed to rely on the best available scientific information in determining that climate change and other threats will not significantly impact the North American wolverine in the foreseeable future. The Service also failed to draw rational conclusions from the scientific information before it.
"This is another example of the Service and Director Ashe caving to political pressure from the special interests preventing sound wildlife management in the western states," said Western Environmental Law Center's Rocky Mountain office director Matthew Bishop. "It is obviously time for the Service to employ the precautionary principle and protect a clearly imperiled species before it's doomed to extinction."
"It is a shame that the Fish and Wildlife Service has turned a blind eye to the plight of a wilderness icon such as the wolverine, but we will not stand by while the Service ignores the best available science," said Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso. "We intend to make sure that the wolverine gets a fighting chance at survival."