Feds Say Wolverines Need Protection

December 13, 2010 - 1:28 PM

Helena, Mont. (AP) - Wolverines should be added to the list of endangered and threatened species, but other species considered in greater danger will prevent the small, ferocious mammal from protection for now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday.

The federal agency's decision found that the North American wolverine is a distinct population segment and that its addition to the Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants is warranted.

"Currently, however, listing the contiguous U.S. (population) of the North American wolverine is precluded by higher priority actions," the ruling posted on the agency's website reads.

Instead, the animal will be added to a candidate species list and the Fish and Wildlife Service will develop a proposed rule to add the wolverine population to the list as the priorities allow. The agency also will make a determination on wolverines' critical habitat.

The Fish and Wildlife Service says wolverines' range in the U.S. includes portions of Montana, Idaho, Washington, Wyoming, Colorado, Oregon, Utah and California, but the animal also travels outside that range.

The ruling said wolverines likely exist as a network of semi-isolated populations, and they require gene flow between these groups to support each other and prevent individual populations from going extinct. If that dynamic breaks down, then the entire population may be jeopardized.

The ruling said that outcome is likely due to wolverines' naturally low reproductive rates and low densities.

Two years ago, the agency found the wolverine was not eligible for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act because it did not constitute a distinct population segment.

Environmentalists sued, and last year the agency agreed to study the matter again and issue a new finding this month.