On August 13th, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that wolverines will not be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). With careful consideration of the science, I strongly believe that this was the wrong decision.
With current and future threats combined, this amazing species will be on its way towards extinction and not recovery under the ESA. Multiple threats that continue to jeopardize the wolverines' fate into the future include the species' extremely small population size, low genetic diversity, and direct and indirect adverse impacts from trapping, winter recreation, and habitat alteration. These threats are made worse by shrinking habitat from the loss of persistent snowpack across much of the West. We need to protect them from vanishing in the Lower 48 like they almost did in 1900s.
FWS argues that predictions about climate change's localized impacts to wolverines are too uncertain. The Service's suggestion that the wolverine does not qualify for listing due to uncertainty about the effects of climate change on the species ignores the seriousness of a wide range of threats to the wolverine beyond just climate change, which by itself will jeopardize wolverines that depend on deep, persistent snowpack for den sites, with snow levels in the West expected to decline over time. In fact, Service field biologists who have worked for seven years on the wolverine listing decision were entirely convinced by the best available science that wolverines deserved protection as threatened under the ESA due to the threat of climate change. They recommended that the species be listed, and I agree. I ask that you, Secretary Jewell, give wolverines the protection they need.
The Service now claims that the wolverine population is currently stable or increasing, yet there is no published research to show this is occurring. During the population's low point in the 1900s, there were likely only a few individuals left in the Lower 48. Now, biologists estimate a total wolverine population of less than 300 individuals and an average effective population size (that portion of the population that contributes annually to the next generation) of only 35 animals. While some wolverines have recently been spotted by advanced technological tools in some regions where they had not been seen for decades, this does not prove their populations are expanding. Lone individuals here and there do not comprise breeding populations. Wolverines remain incredibly vulnerable.
It is a fundamentally American value to protect our land, air, water, and wildlife - that's why we created acts like the ESA. If we're not willing to protect one of the rarest mammals in the Lower 48, animals that have possibly as few as 250 individuals left and with one of the lowest successful reproductive rates known to mammals, how imperiled does a species have to be to gain federal protection?
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I greatly appreciate any steps you can take to reverse the Service's mistaken decision to withdraw the proposal to list wolverines under the ESA.
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