HELENA – Eight conservation and sportsman groups are petitioning Montana to ban the trapping of wolverines, citing a government finding that climate change may threaten the survival of the fierce bearlike creatures.
Montana wildlife regulators on Thursday unanimously approved the upcoming trapping season anyway, saying the climate change models span decades and the trapping quota of five wolverines for the 2012 season is not likely to hurt the overall population.
“There’s not an immediate threat,” Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife chief Ken McDonald said. “We don’t see any kind of significant red flags to have us change our existing season.”
Agency attorneys are still analyzing state law to determine how they’ll respond to the petition.
Montana is the only state in the contiguous U.S. that allows the trapping of wolverines, the largest member of the weasel family. Wolverines keep to high elevations with deep snow and can fight off a grizzly bear when cornered.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are 250 to 300 wolverines in the Lower 48, with most in Montana and Idaho, but a few animals with ranges that include Washington, Oregon, California, Wyoming and Colorado. There are larger populations in Alaska, where trapping also is permitted, and as many as 20,000 in Canada.
The Fish and Wildlife Service added wolverines to the candidates of species that warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2010 after concluding climate change in the coming decades will reduce the animals’ habitat and increase their isolation from each other.
The warming trend is expected to reduce the snowpack that the wolverines depend on for habitat and denning. Their habitat in the contiguous U.S. is expected to decrease by 23 percent by 2045 and 63 percent by 2099, according to the government agency.
The Fish and Wildlife Service concluded the effects of climate warming are serious, “but so far have not resulted in any detectable population effects to the species.”
But that threat, coupled with the wolverine already having one of the lowest successful reproductive rates among mammals, is reason enough to end all trapping of the animal in Montana, according to the 52-page petition filed Wednesday.
The petition was submitted by Friends of the Wild Swan, Helena Hunters and Anglers Association, Montana Ecosystem Defense, Native Ecosystems Council, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Swan View Coalition, WildEarth Guardians, Footloose Montana and one individual, George Wuerthner.
The attorney representing those groups, Matthew Bishop of the Western Environmental Law Center in Helena, said the petition asks Montana to end trapping until the species is no longer protected or a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
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