·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Lawsuits & Litigation

Lawsuit Filed over Government’s Refusal to Protect Wolverines

— December 22, 2020

Wolverines are dwindling in number, but lawsuit alleges the government won’t protect them under the ESA.

The wolverine, which looks like a small bear, is an endangered species.  Less than 300 live in the lower 48 states, with sparse populations in Idaho, Montana, Washington, Wyoming and Oregon, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.  A coalition of conservation groups consisting of the Defenders of Wildlife, Idaho Conservation League, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Sierra Club and Rocky Mountain Wild, has filed a lawsuit against the federal government’s Fish and Wildlife Service over its decision to not protect the mammal under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The government’s decision “will impede the conservation efforts needed to prevent extinction of the species as a result of climate change, habitat fragmentation and lack of genetic diversity,” according to the lawsuit.  The ESA is governed by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

Lawsuit Filed over Government's Refusal to Protect Wolverines
Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

A petition to include wolverines under was filed in 2000, and seven years later the Fish and Wildlife Service said it would review its status.  Over the past two decades since this petition circulated, the Fish and Wildlife Service has faced five lawsuits – two concerning inaction and three for “failing to properly consider science” when refusing to protect wolverines, said Katie Bilodeau, attorney for Idaho-based conservation group Friends of the Clearwater, adding, “In each lawsuit, the court found the government’s decision unlawful, or the agency chose not to defend its decision.”

The government did consider listing the animal as “threatened” in 2013, but changed its mind just month later, indicating “the species does not face an imminent threat due to climate change.  New research and analysis show that wolverine populations in the American Northwest remain stable.”

“The wolverine is a famously tough creature that doesn’t back down from anything, but even the wolverine can’t overcome climate change by itself,” Amanda Galvan, an attorney for the nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice, argued. “To survive, the wolverine needs the protections that only the Endangered Species Act can provide.”

“In addition, wolverine populations are at risk from trapping and human disturbance,” according to the lawsuit, which alleges the federal agency failed to use the “best available scientific information in its decision.”  It is seeking an order for the Fish and Wildlife Service to “publish a new final listing determination within six months,” hoping it won’t take another seven years for its status to be reviewed.

“We stand by our decision to withdraw the listing proposal,” a statement from the federal service, which sparked the lawsuit, read. “The best available science shows that the factors affecting wolverine populations are not as significant as believed in 2013 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to list the wolverine found in the contiguous United States as threatened.  New research and analysis show that wolverine populations in the American Northwest remain stable, and individuals are moving across the Canadian border in both directions and returning to former territories.  The species, therefore, does not meet the definition of threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.”


Government refusal to protect wolverines sparks lawsuit from conservation groups

Endangered Species Act | Overview

Join the conversation!