For years, westerners whose livelihoods were threatened by restrictions of the Endangered Species Act complained that species ranging from grizzly bears, wolves and even caribou did not deserve special protection because there were plenty in Alaska and Canada.
Now for the first time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has attempted to make that view policy. The agency announced that wolverines, while scattered, fragmented and inbreeding in the lower 48 states, do not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act because their population is contiguous with Canada and management here is not much different than used up north.
Wolverines live in Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon and now it has been revealed in California. They live high up in the mountains far away from people except when snowmobilers, Sno-Cat skiers and perhaps a few cross country skiers decide to get high for fun.
What struck me the most about the Bush Administration’s decision is that it had nothing whatsoever in it about the potential impact of climate change on these tough predators. They are at the southern range of their habitat in the Northern Rockies. Since they live in steep mountain areas the amount of habitat will drop at a higher rate in warming because there is less land mass on top of mountains than at the bottom.
The controlling factor of reproduction is the amount of spring snow available for their dens. So in short, the warmer it gets the harder life will be for the wolverine.
This decision comes from the same Department of Interior - Dirk Kempthorne’s Department of Interior – that proposed listing polar bears because the polar ice on which they depend is melting away.
Environmentalists have gone back to their scriptures to show how bad this decision is, Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac where he discussed the disappearance of grizzlies in the lower 48 and the seemly prevailing view in 1948 that grizzlies belonged in Alaska but not in most people’s back yard. I suspect for many Americans having grizzly bears s neighbors is still not a popular proposition.
“Relegating grizzlies to Alaska is about like relegating happiness to heaven; one may never get there,” Leopold wrote.
Jamie Rappaport Clark, who reviewed listing decisions in the first Bush Administration, was U.S. and Wildlife Director in the Clinton Administration and now executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife, said she was “deeply disturbed,” by the decision, a sense of indignation beyond the usual level from environmentalists.
“If the same narrow criterion that is being applied to the wolverine was applied to the American bald eagle, it would no longer be with us,” Clark said. “There was a healthy population of bald eagles outside the United States, yet we recognized the need to protect its viability as a species within the United States.”
The review of wolverine was forced by lawsuits and this issue will likely be resolved by lawsuits.