North American Wolverines Deserve Long-Delayed Threatened Species Protections
The North American wolverine, the world’s largest species of terrestrial weasels, has been proposed for threatened species protections by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, following years of disputes. Experts disagreed over the risks of climate change that threatened to melt away the species’ snowy mountain refuges, pushing them toward extinction. Wolverines once roamed across most of the U.S., but they were wiped out from unregulated trapping and poisoning campaigns by the early 1900s. About 300 surviving animals, now live in fragmented, isolated groups at high elevations in the northern Rocky Mountains. The decision to protect them gives the animals a greater chance to survive, as they join a growing number of endangered species – from polar bears in Alaska to crocodiles in southern Florida – threatened by rising temperatures and altered snowfall patterns caused by increasing global temperatures.
The Danger of Climate Change to Wolverines’ Survival
Warming temperatures in the coming decades are expected to reduce the mountain snowpack that wolverines rely on to dig dens where they raise their young. As a result, the species faces habitat degradation and fragmentation, compounded by other problems including increased development, which will likely harm their populations. Habitat loss as a result of climate change and other stressors will likely “impact the viability of wolverines in the contiguous U.S. through the remainder of this century,” according to government scientists. The decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect remaining habitats of the animal species offers a fighting chance for their survival, a tool that we have failed to give them for decades.
The Need for Immediate Threatened Species Protections
The failed Endangered Species Act requires the protection of North American wolverines, who are becoming isolated and threatened despite their once-diverse populations. Due primarily to the ongoing and increasing impacts of climate change and associated habitat degradation and fragmentation, as noted in the proposal by officials, the protection of wolverines’ remaining habitat strongholds is needed now more than ever.
High Risks Associated with Delayed Protections
The delay in protecting threatened species status for the North American wolverine has exacerbated habitat fragmentation, which cannot be compensated for by future protections. Republican lawmakers in Montana have sought to hinder the cause, urging the administration to delay its decision based on uncertainties regarding scientists’ estimates and claiming inaccuracies that would not make for a fair call about the dangers faced by wolverines. Proponents of protections have warned that wolverines face localized extinctions from climate change, habitat fragmentation, and low genetic diversity. It is now time to take immediate actions to ensure the long-term survival of this elusive species.
Mitigation Measures to Reduce Wolverines’ Exposure to Human Activities
While the effects on wolverine populations in existing developments such as ski resorts are minimal, winter recreation may harm them in the future as activities such as backcountry skiing and snowmobiling become more popular in some areas. The proposal would allow some accidental killing of wolverines as long as trappers report captures within five days and use “best practices” to avoid the animals. However, trapping should still be banned entirely, as wolverines are scavengers that go everywhere and eat everything, and trapping leads to overharvesting by trappers, reducing populations in southwestern Canada by over 40% over the past two decades. Furthermore, it is necessary to offer compensation to the state for the lack of use on state-owned land once the federal government limited the use of our land as a form of compensatory measure. We must put mitigative measures in place to control human impact on wolverine habitats, such as ski resorts, to allow the animals to survive and revive in the long term.
Wolverines Deserve Attention
This determination will prompt comprehensive action to protect wolverine habitat to ensure the species’ long-term survival. Wolverines’ remaining populations and habitats need to be protected for the species to survive, as they are essential for the ecosystem and the species itself. Wolverine populations require expansive wildlands, with adult wolverines’ home range covering as much as 610 square miles, according to one study, and protection from trapping. Protecting them demands respect and attention to an underprivileged species that deserves protections under the Endangered Species Act.
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