Climate change may not be so crippling to wildlife after all.
Wolverine (credit: Steve Kroschel)
That's one conclusion that could be drawn from a recent decision by a Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director to withdraw a proposal to list the wolverine as threatened.
The Los Angeles Times' Louis Sahagun reported Saturday that the service was preparing the withdrawal of the proposed rule. Today, the Center for Biological Diversity posted a memo from FWS Mountain-Prairie Regional Director Noreen Walsh, directing scientists to prepare a Federal Register notice withdrawing the proposal.
[Addendum: A final decision to withdraw the proposal has not been made yet by FWS Director Dan Ashe, Assistant Director for Endangered Species Gary Frazer told ESWR. "The decision document is still under development," he said July 7.]
CBD said the service was caving to state interests and ignoring science that supports the listing. Said the center in a news release:
On May 17, 2014, the assistant regional director of ecological services at the Fish and Wildlife Service sent a memo to the regional director in Denver transmitting the recommendation of the Montana field office that “the wolverine listing be finalized as threatened.” The memo further concludes that, “In our review we have been unable to obtain or evaluate any other peer reviewed literature or other bodies of evidence that would lead us to a different conclusion.”
In contrast, the recently leaked memo overrules and ignores the substantial evidence and conclusions of the proposed rule, the independent science panel report [see below], and the strong conclusions of the Montana field office, which is staffed with the agency scientists who have the greatest knowledge of wolverines.
CBD pointed out that Montana, Idaho and Wyoming had all opposed the listing, submitting comments that raised questions about the extent to which wolverines are dependent on snow for habitat. In her memo, Walsh took pains to say that the decision to withdraw the proposal was hers alone, and was not influenced by conversations with state officials. "I emphasize that while state agencies are our primary partners in conservation, the determination I have come to as stated in this memo about the wolverine's status under the Endangered Species Act is mine alone, and has not been influenced in any way by a state representative."
She also said that two other regional directors, who oversee regions containing wolverine habitat, agreed with her.
Because of the scientific disagreements, FWS convened an expert panel to take a closer look. It released its report in April.
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From proposed rule, Feb. 4, 2013:
“Due to dependence of wolverines on deep snow that persists into late spring both for successful reproduction and for year-round habitat, and their restricted distribution to areas that maintain significant snow late into the spring season, we conclude that deep snow maintained through the denning period is required for wolverines to [[Page 7875]] successfully live and reproduce. Reduction of this habitat feature would proportionally reduce wolverine habitat, or to an even greater extent if habitat reduction involved increasing fragmentation.”
“[B]ased on our current knowledge of occupied wolverine habitat and wolverine densities in this habitat, it is reasonable to estimate that the wolverine population in the contiguous United States numbers approximately 250 to 300 individuals (Inman 2010b, pers. comm.). The bulk of the current population occurs in the northern Rocky Mountains, with a few individuals in the North Cascades and one known individual each in the Sierra Nevada and southern Rocky Mountains.”
From Walsh memo, May 30, 2014:
“Since I do not accept the underlying premise that climate change is in fact a threat to wolverine, I also do not believe that the identified secondary threats are threats to the species. As I do not accept the conclusions that wolverine populations will decline in the foreseeable future due to habitat loss associated with climate change, I do not believe the genetic and demographic effects will be realized.”
“Since the proposed rule was published, Inman et al. (2013) published estimated available habitat capacity to be approximately 644 wolverines (95% CI = 506-1881) and estimated that current population size is currently approximately half of capacity.”
L.A. Times story by Louis Sahagun (7/6/2014)