David Cassuto (x-post from Animal Blawg)

Speaking of the Endangered Species Act…

This just in:

After a thorough review of all the available science, the Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the contiguous United States population of wolverine should be protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). However, the rulemaking to propose ESA protections for the wolverine will be delayed while we work on listing proposals for other species in greater need. The wolverine will be added to the list of candidates for ESA protection. As a candidate species, the wolverine will not receive protection under the ESA; however, we will review its status annually and will continue to work with landowners and partners to implement voluntary conservation measures.

The results of status review indicate that climate warming is the primary threat to wolverine. Our evaluation found that the effects of climate warming are serious but so far have not resulted in any detectable population effects to the species. Because the threat of climate warming is not imminent, we will use our resources to work on listing determinations for species at greater risk of extinction.

So, what does this all mean?  It means that the Fish & Wildlife Service, whose finding is quoted above, has determined that wolverines meet the criteria for listing under the Act but that no action will be taken right now because other species are a higher priority.          

Wolverines currently exist in the North Cascades Range in Washington and the Northern Rockies of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.  However, climate change has wrought havoc on the wolverine’s habitat.  Female wolverines dig dens in deep snow in order to have their young.  Less snow means fewer dens and, consequently, fewer wolverines.  Hence the finding (n.b.: the finding followed an earlier finding that the wolverine was not endangered, which led to litigation, which led to this new and improved finding).

One might view this latest determination as progress and I guess it is — in an unproductive, Pyrrhic sort of way.  Environmental advocates successfully forced the government to recognize that wolverines are threatened.  But until they are officially listed, that recognition means nothing.  And just what are those “higher priority” species?  And since when does listing one species preclude the listing of another?

According to Fish & Wildlife, there is no rush to list the wolverine because “the threat of climate warming is not imminent.”  In the words of Bill Cosby, “Riiiight.”