Feds Propose Rule to Protect ‘Threatened’ Wolverine from Climate Change

By Penny Starr | February 20, 2013 | 1:34 PM EST

This undated image provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows a wolverine. (AP Photo/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has posted a proposed rule in the Federal Register that would add the wolverine to the list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Although the wolverines have "made a remarkable recovery" since the early 20th Century, the Fish and Wildlife Service warns that "climate warming over the next century is likely to significantly reduce the wolverine habitat, to the point where persistence of wolverines in the contiguous United States, without intervention, is in doubt."

Protecting the wolverine under the Endangered Species Act "can help protect the wolverine from extinction by increasing its ability to persist in the face of climate change," the agency said.

The proposed rule identifies "several risk factors" for the wolverine population that, "in concert with climate change, may result in reduced habitat value for the species,” the text of the proposed rule stated.

“These risk factors include human activities like dispersed recreation, land management activities by Federal agencies and private landowners, and infrastructure development,” the rule stated.

Under the heading “Reduction in Habitat Due to Climate Change,” the rule states that its definition of climate change comes from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an arm of the United Nations.

“The term ‘climate change’ thus refers to a change in the mean or variability of one or more measures of climate (e.g., temperature or precipitation) that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer, whether the change is due to natural variability, human activity, or both,” the rule stated, citing the IPCC’s definition of climate change.

The text also stated that there are “scientific uncertainties on many aspects of climate change,” but then listed the sources used to support the rule’s claim that the wolverine’s habitat is threatened by it.

Based on selected climate change studies, the rule stated:

“We analyzed the effects of climate change on wolverines through three primary mechanisms: (1) Reduced snowpack and earlier spring runoff, which would reduce suitable habitat for wolverine denning; (2) increase in summer temperatures beyond the physiological tolerance of wolverines; and (3) ecosystem changes due to increased temperatures, which would move lower elevation ecosystems to higher elevations, thereby eliminating high-elevation ecosystems on which wolverines depend and increasing competitive interactions with species that currently inhabit lower elevations.

“These mechanisms would tend to push the narrow elevation band that wolverines use into higher elevation. Due to the conical structure of mountains, this upward shift would result in reduced overall suitable habitat for wolverines.”

Comments on the proposed rule are open until May 6, 2013, according to the federal registry. At the time this story was posted, more than 6,000 comments had been submitted on the regulations.gov, many of which are supportive.

The Fish and Wildlife Service says it will make a final determination a year from now on whether to add the wolverine to the list of endangered and threatened wildlife. " The Service will also decide whether or not it is prudent to designate critical habitat for the wolverine, and whether such a designation would be beneficial to this species given the threat to its habitat is climate change."

The Endangered Species Act was made law in 1973. Its purpose is “to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend,” according to the FWS.