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A female wolverine prowls the backcountry of Glacier National Park, one of the few strongholds for the rarely seen carnivore.

Wolverine trapping in Montana effectively ended on Monday after a court case challenging its legality looks to last beyond the season’s end.

And an anticipated federal rule could put the rare predator on the Endangered Species List.

After putting the trapping season in limbo with a temporary injunction Nov. 30, District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock canceled a planned Jan. 10 hearing on the matter when environmental groups and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks couldn’t make the date. The state wolverine trapping season ends Feb. 15, and another court date couldn’t be set before then, according to Matt Bishop, the attorney for the environmental groups.

Meanwhile, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said they planned to issue a proposed rule on wolverines’ U.S. Endangered Species Act status on Jan. 18. Wolverines had been considered “warranted but precluded” from a formal ESA listing because of a lack of data on their habitat and agency resources to assess them.

Bishop said he expected the proposed rule would give wolverines “threatened” status under the ESA, which would make trapping illegal. But because there’s a possibility FWS could rule the wolverine doesn’t need federal protection, the environmental groups haven’t dropped their lawsuit yet.

“My hope is that now this season has effectively closed, a new rule listing wolverines will be in place before the next season starts,” Bishop said.

The federal decision must still go through several months of public comment and review.

A coalition of eight environmentalist and conservation groups sued the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to block the trapping season. They won the injunction just before the 2012-13 wolverine trapping season was to begin.

Montana previously allowed trapping five wolverines a year. Biologists estimate there are 175 wolverines in the state.

The plaintiffs in the case were Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Wild Swan, Montana Ecosystem Defense Council, Native Ecosystems Council, Swan View Coalition, WildEarth Guardians and Footloose Montana.

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