A court ruling in Montana brings the issue of wolverine classification under the Endangered Species Act back into the spotlight.
Chief Judge Dana L. Christensen urges the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to look further into the debate over Wolverine protection. Currently, there are around 300 of the "mountain devils" estimated to be living in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
The concern is that future population numbers will be affected by climate change and the decreasing amount of annual snowfall. Wolverines need the snow. They raise their young in dens buried deep at timberline under ice and rock. Former wolverine biologist Jeff Copeland says, "Wolverines don't reproduce in the absence of snow. Climate change is going to have a real impact on wolverines."
In 2014, the Fish and Wildlife Service cited a lack of scientific evidence and ultimately decided not to list the Wolverine as an endangered species. But Judge Christensen says the time is now. "No greater level of certainty is needed to see the writing on the wall for this snow-dependent species standing squarely in the path of global climate change."
The states themselves stand against listing the wolverine as endangered. Along with recreationists and hunters, they worry about the impact it will have on trapping regulations and backcountry access such as snowmobiling. The petroleum industry also stands against it over fears of limiting access to producing areas and further exploration.
The wolverine is an extraordinary animal of mythical proportions. They are synonymous with mountain men and wild tales of the Rocky Mountains. They are as much a part of the rich heritage of the region as the grizzly bear or bull elk. They are famous for their will to survive and have even been reported to take down animals as big as moose.
This debate has been going on for over twenty years and after Judge Christensen's court ruling, it looks like the battle for control over the wolverine's future is far from settled.