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There’s a Trend Here

Written by Dennis Sun

One morning this past week while looking over the news, I read a story from the Associated Press where U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen from Missoula, Mont. ordered wildlife officials to act as quickly as possible to protect the wolverine as it becomes vulnerable to a warming planet.

As you remember, some time back in 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) leadership rejected numerous views of some of its own scientists to list the wolverine. Basically, the scientists said in 2013 that future temperature increases – or climate change – could melt snowfields occupied by wolverines in some high elevation mountain ranges in the states of Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Wyoming. Alaska and Canada have never been proposed for protection as they have large populations of wolverines. They called for increased protections to keep the species from going extinct.

The head of the FWS evidently didn’t agree with many of its scientists and ruled against protection. Now, Judge Christensen’s 85-page ruling in favor of a number of environmental organizations goes against the decision of the FWS top officials, and it also brings in the issue of climate change as one of the reasons. Most likely, because it worked in this case, they will certainly use climate change in other cases, and they have shopped for a judge who agrees with them. This case will carry potential ramifications for many other species caught in the debate over how climate change affects wildlife and plants.

The judge was especially critical of the states, which had questioned the biologists’ work showing population problems for the wolverine, noting Montana’s arguments were “particularly weak and unsavory,” saying they had accused the “Service biologists of cooking the science in favor of listing with the intent of receiving additional funding.”

Judge Christensen was also critical that FWS leaders hadn’t more thoroughly considered the questions of genetic diversity and smaller populations pointed out by the agencies’ own science. FWS said this didn’t pose any threat to the wolverine’s long-term viability, and the judge was also critical of that statement. The regional director of the FWS said that uncertain climate models that prevented accurate predictions of whether future den sites would be available to female wolverines was what part of his decision was based on in 2014.

I don’t know if the FWS had a weak case or not, but they lost big, and that will hurt the states affected. We saw the same buzzwords that have worked for extreme environmentalists in the past. Now climate change is added to the list.

So far it has worked for the wolf, grizzly bear, owl, Bighorn sheep to some degree, black-footed ferret, sage grouse and now the wolverine, and we realize once the populations are recovered, it is truly difficult to get them off the list. I’m not saying we have lost the war, but we have sure lost some battles.

People of the West are willing to protect and recover species that science says are really threatened, but wolves and grizzly bears are fully recovered. Let’s delist them and move on. Even the chief of the Forest Service has said since the spotted owl was listed, their numbers have declined, mostly due to forest management.

Judges managing our natural resources just doesn’t work.