Montana's top wildlife official said today that his agency will thoroughly review a federal rule expected to be published Monday before responding to the forthcoming proposal to list the wolverine as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
"We know, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged, that Montana is a stronghold for wolverines and wolverine habitat," said Jeff Hagener, director of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks in Helena. "It's our understanding that the USFWS commended Montana's wolverine management as a tightly regulated furbearer species, and that FWP has taken great care to ensure the wolverine harvest wouldn't impact any particular geographic area."
About 250-300 wolverines inhabit the lower 48 states, with most believed to inhabit Montana.
The USFWS's latest review of the wolverine's status found that the species' survival in the contiguous U.S. is primarily threatened by the impact of climate change on its alpine habitat.
The wolverine inhabits alpine areas in Alaska, western Canada and the western U.S. In areas south of Canada, wolverines are restricted to high mountains, near tree line, where conditions are cold year-round and snow cover persists well into spring. More than 90 percent of wolverine habitat in the lower 48 states is located on federal land.
Montana has been the only state other than Alaska to offer a wolverine trapping season in recent years, allowing the harvest of five wolverines a year over the mountainous western portion of the state. Since 2008, an average about three wolverines have been harvested annually.
"Our primary concern is to maintain the authority and ability to manage Montana's wildlife," Hagener said. "No matter what the ultimate decision turns out to be, Montana will make a strong case to maintain authority to manage its wildlife, including the ability to trap other species, like wolves, that may sometimes share habitat with the wolverine."
Hagener noted that due to the generally remote nature of the high-elevation habitat wolverines use in Montana, it's unlikely that other activities would be directly impacted by the listing.
Trapping for wolverines, however, will remain closed for the foreseeable future. In December, in lieu of a federal decision on the wolverine's federal status, a state district court judge in Helena granted a temporary restraining order that blocked the opening of Montana's 2012-13 wolverine trapping season.
Hagener said that while Montana harbors the healthiest wolverine population in the nation, the federal Endangered Species Act doesn't readily allow for listing populations along state lines based on species health and tailored management practices.
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