Wolverine listing proposal withdrawn

 Posted by on August 12, 2014
Aug 122014
 

The Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that it is withdrawing its proposal to list the wolverine as threatened.

Links follow.


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August 12, 2014
Contact: Gavin Shire, 703-346-9123, gavin_shire@fws.gov

Service Determines Wolverine Does Not Warrant
Protection Under Endangered Species Act

Future effects of climate change on species are uncertain; Service will continue to work with state partners to manage healthy and secure wolverine populations

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it is withdrawing a proposal to list the North American wolverine in the contiguous United States as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The wolverine, a large but elusive member of the weasel family found in the Mountain West, has made a steady recovery in the past half century after hunting, trapping and poisoning nearly extirpated the species from the lower 48 states in the early 1900s.

While it is clear that the climate is warming, after carefully considering the best available science, the Service has determined that the effects of climate change are not likely to place the wolverine in danger of extinction now or in the foreseeable future. As a result, the wolverine does not meet the statutory definition of either a “threatened species” or an “endangered species” and does not warrant protection under the ESA.

Service Director Dan Ashe’s decision to withdraw the listing proposal was informed by the consensus recommendation of the agency’s three Regional Directors for the regions encompassing the wolverine’s known range in the contiguous United States—the Mountain Prairie, Pacific Northwest and Pacific Southwest regions. The three Directors made the recommendation based on a synthesis of the entire body of scientific evidence. The Service had previously extended the listing deadline by six months due to substantial disagreement regarding the sufficiency or accuracy of the available data relevant to the determination, as allowed by the ESA.

“Climate change is a reality, the consequences of which the Service deals with on a daily basis. While impacts to many species are clear and measurable, for others the consequences of a warming planet are less certain. This is particularly true in the Mountain West, where differences in elevation and topography make fine-scale prediction of climate impacts ambiguous,” said Ashe. “In this case, based on all the information available, we simply do not know enough about the ecology of the wolverine and when or how it will be affected by a changing climate to conclude at this time that it is likely to be in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future.”

The Service initially proposed to list the wolverine based on climate-change-model forecasts showing overall loss of spring snow across the range of the species. However, upon conducting a more thorough review and gathering additional information, the Service found that climate change models are unable to reliably predict snowfall amounts and snow-cover persistence in wolverine denning locations. Additionally, evidence suggests that wolverine populations grew and expanded in the second half of the last century and may continue to expand into suitable, unoccupied habitat. For example, wolverine sightings outside formerly known habitat occurred in the Sierra Nevada range in California in 2008 and in Colorado in 2012. And in April 2014, a wolverine was seen in the Uinta Range of Utah—the first confirmed sighting of the species in that state in some 30 years. Currently, there is insufficient evidence to conclude that wolverine habitat impacts due to the effects of climate change will affect the population in the foreseeable future.

“While we concluded that the wolverine does not merit Endangered Species Act protection at this time, this does not end our involvement in wolverine conservation,” said Ashe. “We will continue to work with our state partners as they manage for healthy and secure wolverine populations and monitor their status. If new information emerges that suggests we should take another look at listing, we will not hesitate to do that.”

Wolverine populations currently occur within the contiguous United States in the North Cascades Range in Washington and the Northern Rockies of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and a small portion of Oregon (Wallowa Range). Populations once existed in the Sierra Nevada of California and the southern Rocky Mountains in the states of Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico.

Simultaneous with the withdrawal of the listing proposal, the Service is withdrawing a proposed special rule under Section 4(d) of the Act that would have tailored protections to those needed for the conservation of the species, and a proposed nonessential-experimental-population designation for the southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information, visit www.fws.gov, or connect with us through any of these social media channels:

-FWS-

Apr 272012
 

Polar Bears International says recent media reports about increasing polar bear numbers in Western Hudson Bay present a highly misleading picture of the actual situation.

The stories “stem[] from a press release on a preliminary study of the Western Hudson Bay population that relied on a different methodology (aerial vs. capture-recapture) and larger geographic survey area than previous studies,” PBI said.

The aerial survey was conducted for the government of Nunavut in Canada. The Inuit population in Nunavut is concerned that the hunting quota in Western Hudson Bay will be lowered.

An article in the Toronto Globe & Mail said the survey “shows the bear population in a key part of northern Canada is far larger than many scientists thought, and might be growing.”

“The bear population is not in crisis as people believed,” Drikus Gissing, Nunavut’s director of wildlife management, told the Globe & Mail. “There is no doom and gloom.”

The Globe & Mail story, by reporter Paul Waldie, provided context.

There’s much at stake in the debate. Population figures are used to calculate quotas for hunting, a lucrative industry for many northern communities. Hunting polar bears is highly regulated but Inuit communities can sell their quota to sport hunters, who must hunt with Inuit guides. A polar-bear hunting trip can cost up to $50,000. Demand for polar-bear fur is also soaring in places like China and Russia and prices for some pelts have doubled in the past couple of years, reaching as high as $15,000.

The Nunavut hunting quota in the western Hudson Bay area fell to 8 from 56 after the 2004 report from Environment Canada. The Nunavut government increased it slightly last year but faced a storm of protest. Over all, about 450 polar bears are killed annually across Nunavut. Mr. Gissing said a new quota is expected to be announced in June.

The article also quoted longtime polar bear scientist Andrew Derocher, who questioned the validity of the survey’s conclusions.

Instead of the survey’s estimate that 1,013 bears are living in the area, PBI chief scientist Steven Amstrup said the more important piece of information is the number of yearlings seen from the air — 22, or 3 percent of the 701 bears “actually counted.”

“By comparison, in Alaska during the good ice years of the 1980s, about 15 percent of the animals observed were yearlings,” PBI said in an email sent out April 26. (See below for the text.)

The brief (eight-page) report from Nunavut notes the paucity of young bears. “Relatively few cubs of the year (50) and yearlings (22) were observed in [Western Hudson Bay] in comparison to the recent polar bear surveys in Foxe Basin in 2009 and 2010. Additionally, average litter sizes were the lowest recorded in recent years amongst the 3 Hudson Bay sub-populations suggesting that reproductive output in WH was poor in 2011.”

MediaMatters, a nonprofit watchdog group (yes, it’s a “liberal” watchdog group) took a look at the story on earlier in April, citing Amstrup’s criticisms.

More links

Here’s the reprint from the PBI email:

The Truth About Polar Bear Numbers April 2012      
Nearing BearYou may have seen recent headlines stating that the Western Hudson Bay polar bear population–widely considered the most endangered–is, in fact, “healthy and abundant.”Sadly, that’s not the case. So what’s going on? The media flurry stems from a press release on a preliminary study of the Western Hudson Bay population that relied on a different methodology (aerial vs. capture-recapture) and larger geographic survey area than previous studies. Dr. Steven C. Amstrup, PBI’s chief scientist, says that media reports have made the serious mistake of comparing the aerial survey–with a point estimate of 1,013 polar bears–to a capture-recapture study from 2004 showing 934 bears. “It’s not a meaningful comparison,” he says. “It’s reasonable to expect there would be more polar bears in a larger geographic area than a smaller one. But even if the new aerial survey focused on exactly the same geographic area, it wouldn’t be surprising to derive a slightly different population estimate when using a different survey method.” He adds that from the standpoint of population welfare, it’s the trend in numbers that is critical, not a single survey from one point in time–so the aerial count will become meaningful only after several years of data are available. “A single point estimate of population size says nothing about whether the trend is up, down, or stable. Trend can only be addressed by multiple point estimates collected over time.”Dr. Amstrup says the new aerial survey does, however, include a piece of information relevant to trend: Of the 701 polar bears actually counted during the survey, only 22 (or about 3%) were yearlings–a very low percentage. By comparison, in Alaska during the good ice years of the 1980s, about 15% of the animals observed were yearlings.”If that 3% figure is even close to the number of surviving yearlings out there now, it’s not at all clear to me how the Hudson Bay population could be sustaining itself,” he says. “This observation is very much in line with the previously published indications that survival–especially of young–is declining.”Mom and cub on backThe release in question was issued by a Nunavut group interested in increasing polar bear hunting quotas.Scientists who study polar bears emphasize that their concern about polar bears is focused on the future. Because polar bears rely on the sea ice to reach their prey, sea ice losses from a warming Arctic threaten their survival.

“The available data from Hudson Bay indicate declining condition and survival,” says Amstrup. “But in the bigger picture, whether any one population is currently declining, stable, or increasing is beside the point. Ultimately, all polar bears will disappear from their current ranges if we do not mitigate the rise in greenhouse gases.”


Photo Credits:

Bear Photos by Daniel J. Cox/NaturalExposures.com;

Survey Photo by BJ Kirschhoffer

Apr 192012
 

Activities outside the range of the polar bear, including emissions of greenhouse gases, won’t be considered in determining the “take” of the bears under the Endangered Species Act, if a Fish and Wildlife Service proposal published April 19 becomes final.

“None of the prohibitions in § 17.31 of this part apply to any taking of polar bears that is incidental to, but not the purpose of, carrying out an otherwise lawful activity within the United States, except for any incidental taking caused by activities in areas subject to the jurisdiction or sovereign rights of the United States within the current range of the polar bear,” the proposed regulatory language says

Here’s the explanation of that paragraph (Paragraph 4) in the proposal, which summarizes the service’s thinking:

[W]e find that for activities outside the current range of the polar bear (including vast areas within the State of Alaska that do not coincide with the polar bear’s range), overlay of the incidental take prohibitions under 50 CFR 17.31 is not necessary and advisable for polar bear management and conservation. The Service finds the provisions of paragraph (4) to be consistent with the conservation of the polar bear because: (1) The potential for citizen suits alleging take resulting from activities outside of the range of the polar bear is significant; (2) the likelihood of such suits prevailing in establishing take of polar bears is remote, and (3) defending against such suits will divert available staff and funding away from productive polar bear conservation efforts. Even though incidental take of polar bears from activities outside the current range of the species would not be prohibited under this proposed special rule, the consultation requirements under section 7 of the ESA would remain fully in effect. Any biological opinion associated with a consultation will identify any incidental take that is reasonably certain to occur. Any incidental take, identified through a biological opinion or otherwise, remains a violation of the MMPA unless appropriately authorized. In addition, the citizen suit provision under section 11 of the ESA would be unaffected by Alternative 2 for challenges to Federal agencies that are alleged to be in violation of the consultation requirement under section 7 of the ESA. Further, the Service will pursue any violation under the MMPA for incidental take that has not been authorized, and all MMPA penalties would apply. As such, we have determined that not having the additional overlay of incidental take prohibitions under 50 CFR 17.31 resulting from activities outside the current range of the polar bear (including some areas within the State of Alaska) would be consistent with the conservation of the species. The Secretary has the discretion to prohibit by regulation with respect to polar bears any act prohibited in section 9(a)(1) of the ESA.

Environmental groups expressed their displeasure with the proposal.

“The proposed rule severely undermines protection for polar bears by exempting from portions of the Endangered Species Act all activities that occur outside of the bears’ range. But the species is endangered precisely because of activities occurring outside the Arctic — namely the emission of greenhouse gases and resulting warming that is leading to the rapid disappearance of summer sea ice,” the Center for Biological Diversity said in a news release (linked above).