Billings Gazette, October 9, 2002

SUIT SEEKS LISTING FOR WOLVERINES

The wolverine, a member of the weasel family that is ferocious enough to fight off bears and wolves but not trappers, is in danger of extinction, say environmentalists who sued Tuesday to get more protection for the animal.

The chocolate-brown carnivores are disappearing from the cold northern areas they roam and need to be federally protected, the groups said.

"The Endangered Species Act is the best tool we have to ensure that the wolverine does not fade away into myth and legend, but remains a living, breathing, snarling component of our precious natural heritage," said David Gaillard, a spokesman for Predator Conservation Alliance.

The group joined four others in suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in federal court in Missoula Tuesday.

"We're simply trying to get a timeline," he said. "Unfortunately this is the only way to get a ruling action anymore is to go to court."

Wolverine populations once stretched from California to Maine. But Gaillard said it is believed that fewer than 750 wolverines remain in just four states - Montana, Washington, Idaho and Wyoming. The strongest population is in an area stretching from Glacier National Park through the Bob Marshall Wilderness into the Swan Valley in Montana, the only state that still allows the animals to be trapped for their fur.

Environmentalists first asked the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service to consider listing wolverines for protection in the mid-1990s. The agency declined, however, saying too little was known about the secretive, high-terrain dwellers to make an informed decision.

The groups petitioned again in 2000, offering a number of scientific studies proving a dwindling population, Gaillard said. Tuesday's lawsuit seeks to force a decision on the petition.

Petitions requesting two other animals be considered for protection - the Yellowstone bison and the Colorado cutthroat trout - are waiting ahead of wolverine request, said FWS spokeswoman Lori Nordstrom.

A total of eight petitions for listing are awaiting action in the FWS region that includes the Northern Rocky Mountains and western prairie states, she said.

It costs $10,000 to $30,000 to determine if a petition for listing has merit, said Chuck Davis, FWS endangered species listing coordinator in Denver. A full status review then costs $50,000 to $100,000.

Although wolverines usually weigh less than 40 pounds, the tenacious creatures have been known to take down elk and moose. But they usually feast on animals killed by other predators, Gaillard said. Wolverines will live in bitter cold remote areas in the winter, digging through snow to find dead animals. Disturbances caused by snowmobiles and skiers that use helicopters to reach high alpine areas can stress wolverines because they are leery of humans, Gaillard said.

Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, Defenders of Wildlife, Northwest Ecosystem Alliance and the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center joined in the lawsuit.

A total of 517 animals and 743 plants are currently either listed as threatened or endangered in the United States.

-reprinted from the October 9, 2002 issue of the Billings Gazette

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