Lawsuit seeks federal protection for wolverines in lower 48 states

Lawsuit seeks federal protection for wolverines in lower 48 states

Conservation Northwest / Mar 19, 2020 / Restoring Wildlife, Wolverine

Wolverine are threatened by a warming climate and shrinking habitat


Contacts: Dave Werntz, Conservation Northwest, (360) 319-9949, dwerntz (at)
                     Amanda Galvan, Earthjustice, (406) 586-9699, agalvan (at)

MISSOULA, Mont.— Conservation groups sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to protect wolverines under the Endangered Species Act.

There are fewer than 300 wolverines left in the contiguous United States. The animals are severely threatened by climate change, which reduces the spring snowpack they need for denning, small population size, and habitat loss caused by snowmobiles, roads and other development.

Wolverines need stronger protections under the Endangered Species Act.                        Photo: iStock/Denja1

Today’s lawsuit, in U.S. District Court in Montana, is the latest step in a 20-year effort to save the species, one of the rarest in the country. Protection under the Act would trigger new conservation efforts for wolverines.

The groups successfully challenged the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2016 for withdrawing a proposed wolverine listing. In that case a Montana federal district judge directed the Service to take action on requests to grant legal protection to the wolverine “at the earliest possible, defensible moment in time,” stressing that “[f]or the wolverine, that time is now.”

Despite the federal court’s admonition in 2016, the Service has failed to take any steps to protect wolverine. In November 2019 the agency missed its own internal deadline for a wolverine listing decision. The lawsuit filed today asks a federal judge to set a deadline for the Service to make this long-delayed decision.

“The wolverine is an icon of our remaining wilderness,” said Earthjustice attorney Amanda Galvan, who is representing the coalition of nine groups. “We’re taking action to ensure that the wolverine gets a fighting chance for survival.”

Earthjustice filed today’s lawsuit on behalf of Conservation Northwest, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Clearwater, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Idaho Conservation League, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Rocky Mountain Wild.

Through our Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project, we’re documenting wolverine habitat changes overtime.                          Photo: CNW/CWMP

“While wolverine are as tough and rugged as their wilderness home, they face dire threats from a warming climate, shrinking snowpack, and an increasingly fragmented habitat,” said Dave Werntz, science and conservation director at Conservation Northwest. “Endangered Species Act protections will help marshal the resources and recovery actions to ensure wolverine have a future in the west’s wild country.”

Scientists and conservationists have been studying Washington’s wolverines since 2005. Conservation Northwest tracks wolverine through our Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project by collecting photographs of unique chest markings and DNA from hair snags, sponsors the Cascade Wolverine Project, and is developing tools to monitor wolverine habitat changes over time with University of Washington researchers. While Washington State has experienced a flurry of wolverine activity in recent years, scientists consider the state’s population to remain quite small.


Wolverines, the largest land-dwelling members of the weasel family, once roamed across the northern tier of the United States and as far south as New Mexico in the Rockies and Southern California in the Sierra Nevada range. After more than a century of trapping and habitat loss, wolverines in the lower 48 today exist only as small, fragmented populations in Idaho, Montana, Washington, Wyoming and northeast Oregon.

Wolverines depend on deep snow, and their populations in Washington live primarily in the Cascades.                   Photo: David Moskowitz

With no more than 300 wolverines remaining in these regions, the species is at direct risk from climate change. Wolverines depend on areas with deep snow through late spring. Pregnant females dig their dens into this snowpack to birth and raise their young. Snowpack is already in decline in the western mountains, a trend that is predicted to worsen with a warming climate.

Wolverine populations are also at risk from trapping, human disturbance, extremely low population numbers resulting in low genetic diversity, and fragmentation of their habitat. Without federal protection the dangers faced by wolverines threaten remaining populations with localized extinctions and inbreeding.


A wolverine detected on a Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project camera. Photo: CWMP