Monday, August 04, 2014

Official's Interference in Wolverine Protection Slammed by Scientists

A group of independent scientists is speaking out in response to an order from a high-ranking U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official to not protect wolverines under the U. S. Endangered Species Act. The scientists are saying the order ignores the best available science and could set a dangerous precedent for future candidates for ESA protection. That order came in the form of a May 30 memo from Noreen Walsh, a regional director, in which she cited "uncertainty" about the effect of climate change on specific pieces of wolverine habitat as justification for her order to abandon the listing process for the species. But in a letter sent Thursday to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and USFWS director Dan Ashe, a group of 56 wildlife ecologists and conservation biologists say that Walsh's order violates USFWS's obligation to use the best available science. And a second letter sent the same day on behalf of two prestigious scientific organizations echoed that charge. The issue: snow. The wolverine, Gulo gulo, needs deep, persistent snow in order to reproduce, as females of the species dig birthing dens in snowbanks five feet deep or more, and those snowbanks have to last until at least May before melting. Though it's true that climate modeling can't yet predict exactly how deep snowbanks will be under specific trees in the early spring of 2073, scientists have reached consensus that the warmer it gets, the faster snow melts. The warmer North America becomes, the harder it will be to find deep snowbanks that last until May. And that poses a serious threat to an already rare carnivore. Which is what USFWS staff had said in their recommendation that the wolverine be listed as a Threatened species. An assistant regional director working under Walsh drew up a formal memo recommending that listing, which would apparently have been a done deal if not for Walsh's subsequent order to back off...more

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