Climate Change, Development, and the Wolverine

” … The wolverine is facing two powerful foes:
climate change … and increased winter
recreation in the Rocky Mountains.”

” Š over the last seven years the Fish and
Wildlife Service has become a hostile gatekeeper,
denying refuge to species that desperately need
the government’s full protection. That must
change.”

The New York Times
July 19, 2008

Editorial
Another Species in Danger

Many animals are said to define true wilderness,
but the best candidate is arguably the wolverine.
The reason isn’t so much its legendary ferocity
or even the remoteness of its habitat. It’s the
fact that the wolverine is so intolerant of human
disturbance.

The wolverine is in desperate trouble these days.
Perhaps only 500 remain in Wyoming, Idaho and
Montana. Even that number may be a considerable
overestimate, according to a coalition of
conservation groups that argues that the
wolverine deserves the protection of the
Endangered Species Act. They plan to sue the Fish
and Wildlife Service if it does not reverse its
recent decision to leave the wolverine to its
fate.

The agency’s decision was based mainly on the
fact that there is a large number of wolverines
in Canada. It claims that the wolverine
populations of the two countries are contiguous
and not distinctly separate, a claim
conservationists dispute. If that logic –
ignoring the health of an animal here if it is
doing well elsewhere – had been allowed to
prevail, many of the act’s notable successes,
including preserving the grizzly bear and the
American bald eagle, would never have happened.

The wolverine is facing two powerful foes:
climate change, which reduces the snow cover the
animals need to make their dens and reproduce;
and increased winter recreation in the Rocky
Mountains, which tends to drive the wolverine out
of its habitat. Add a third: the Bush
administration’s disdain for the Endangered
Species Act.

Placing the animal on the list could conceivably
restrict some commercial or recreational
activities in the Rockies, at least in winter,
annoying powerful Bush constituencies. As for
climate change, the administration made clear in
the case of the polar bear that it will not
restrict greenhouse gas emissions just because a
species is in trouble.

There have always been difficult compromises in
applying the law, but over the last seven years
the Fish and Wildlife Service has become a
hostile gatekeeper, denying refuge to species
that desperately need the government’s full
protection. That must change.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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