Nov 29, 2023 - Energy & Environment

U.S. lists wolverines as a threatened species in the Lower 48

A wolverine yawning.

A wolverine yawning. Photo: Philippe Clement/Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed wolverines on its threatened species list on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The designation was issued as a result of human-driven climate change, which has seen a decline in the amount of mountain snow where wolverines create dens and live.

  • The designation comes just weeks after the service removed 21 native species from its endangered list, declaring them extinct.
  • Efforts to place the animal on the endangered species list date back at least 1994.

Context: In the contiguous U.S., the wolverine is found within the Northern Rocky Mountains and North Cascade Mountains, as well as the forests and tundra of Alaska and Canada.

  • In 2013, the service proposed to list the North American wolverine in the contiguous U.S. as threatened.
  • In 2020, the service under the Trump administration determined the listing wasn't warranted.
  • District Court of Montana vacated that decision in 2022, requiring the animals to be reconsidered for listing.

Details: Wolverines are a medium-sized relative of the mink and weasel with curved claws for digging and climbing, and a maw of sharp teeth for its carnivore diet.

  • In folklore, they've garnered an exaggerated reputation for being irritable loners on a path of destruction that will fight even bears and mountain lions.
  • In reality, they avoid large predators and are indefatigable foragers to appease their voracious appetite. The solitary animals have been known to steal furbearers from traps and to damage cabins, according to Alaska's Fish and Game Department.
  • Their scientific name, Gulo gulo, is Latin for "glutton, glutton."

The big picture: Some scientists argue that humanity's immense influence on Earth is driving the planet's sixth mass extinction, Axios' Ivana Saric reports.

  • The World Wide Fund reported last year that since the 1970s, wildlife populations around the world have plummeted by 69%, largely as a result of human-caused environmental degradation.

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