BILLINGS – A coalition of groups trying to halt wolverine trapping in Montana filed a lawsuit Thursday that aims to provide new protections for an animal scientists warn will be imperiled by climate change in coming decades.

Montana is the only state in the Lower 48 to allow wolverine trapping. As many as five can be trapped annually, a level state officials said is sustainable.

But eight wildlife advocacy and conservation groups represented by the Western Environmental Law Center want state District Judge James Reynolds in Helena to halt the practice. They said trapping should not resume until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determines whether new protections are warranted for the animal.

“You’ve got a low population that’s going to continue to get smaller, and if you throw trapping on top of that, that’s making a bad situation worse,” said Matthew Bishop, the plaintiffs’ attorney in the case.

Wolverines, the largest members of the weasel family, are fierce predators that keep to high elevations with deep snow and can fight off a grizzly bear when cornered.

Federal wildlife officials said in December 2010 that future threats including climate change made it eligible for potential protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the time declined to list the animal as endangered or threatened, citing higher priorities.

The agency said the wolverine population currently is stable or expanding. But it said the warming trend was expected to reduce the snowpack wolverines depend on for habitat and denning.

Suitable habitat for the animals in the contiguous U.S. is expected to decrease by 23 percent by 2045 and 63 percent by the end of the century, according to federal biologists.

The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are 250 to 300 wolverines in the continental U.S. Most are in Montana and Idaho, but a few animals have ranges that include portions of Washington, Oregon, California, Wyoming and Colorado. There are larger populations in Alaska, where trapping also is permitted, and as many as 20,000 wolverines in Canada.

FWP spokesman Ron Aasheim said Montana’s quota of five wolverines a year is reasonable, and the state has no intention to harm the overall wolverine population. The quota was last adjusted in 2008, when it was cut in half from 10 animals annually.

“It’s conservative, and we think it’s sustainable and a reasonable season,” Aasheim said. “It was based on the best science we have.”

The groups involved in Thursday’s lawsuit petitioned the state to halt trapping in August, but the request was denied.

A decision on whether to list the animal as threatened or endangered and provide federal protections is due by the end of next year under the terms of a settlement in a separate lawsuit, Bishop said.

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(5) comments

dsrobins

The mere thought of allowing trapping of endangered species like wolverines is obscene and disgusting. Shame on FWP, the gun goons and the trappers.

Roger
Roger

"Climate change" is a rather specious reason for stopping wolverine trapping - we've seen the massive amount of alarmist fraud and misinformation associated with the issue.

Matthew Koehler

Hey, anonymous-posting "elkguy." Current population estimates from scientists and researchers put the number of wolverines in the lower 48 states between 250 to 500 total animals, the vast majority of which live in Montana. Wolverines are, in fact, endangered, even if the federal government doesn't have the money to deal with listing them on the ESA and establishing a recovery plan. Climate change and the rapid disappearance of glaciers (documented in places like Glacier NP) is a tremendous threat to wolverines. The notion that with as few as 250 wolverines in the entire lower 48 states we should be trapping them in Montana is just so 1890s. Come join us in the 21st century please.

detonate

I'd like to come face to face with a jeremiah johnson wanna be that just trapped a wolverine...toothless... and he hasn't seen deodorant product for a week. I've got my boot resting on the front bumper of his unlicensed F350 with custom spotlight. Me? I'm the dude fresh off the cover of RECOIL... What's up Homer !!!

elkguy

This has nothing to do with wolverines and everything to do with trapping. If they are successful with this animal they'll pick another one next. Wolverines aren't going anywhere and taking 5 certainly isn't going to hurt the population.

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