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Montanans Celebrate Halting of Wolverine Trapping

Court grants temporary restraining order less than 24 hours before the recreational trapping season opens.

 Western Environmental Law Center
November 30, 2012
For Immediate Release
 Contact:
Matthew Bishop, Attorney, WELC, 406-324-8011 (office) or 406-422-9866 (cell)
 
Helena, MT – Less than 24 hours before the start of the wolverine trapping season, a Montana District Court in Helena put a halt to the recreational trapping while the underlying case to determine the lawfulness of wolverine trapping in Montana makes its way through court. This is an important step toward protecting wolverine from extinction in the Lower 48. The exceptionally low wolverine population suffers greatly when even one of the rare animals is trapped.

In the decision to grant the temporary restraining order halting the trapping, the Court opined, “Balancing the loss of a ‘recreational harvest opportunity’ against the possible damage to a potentially endangered species, the Court finds equity lies in favor of issuing a temporary restraining order.”

“We’re thrilled the Court suspended the wolverine trapping season,” said Matthew Bishop, the WELC attorney representing the plaintiffs. “The state shouldn’t be kicking wolverines while they’re down.”

On October 11, the Western Environmental Law Center, on behalf of eight community groups – including Helena Hunters and Anglers Association – and one local resident, filed a lawsuit to halt wolverine trapping in Montana until the species’ population has recovered.

On December 14, 2010, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service determined that the wolverine deserves federal protection under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). However, the agency also said it could not undertake the necessary rulemaking process for lack of time, so the wolverine remains a “candidate” species awaiting protective status.

Montana is the only state in the Lower 48 that still allows the rare wolverine to be trapped. Montana’s wolverine population is estimated at 100-175 animals, with no more than 35 individuals capable of producing offspring. The current quota in Montana allows five wolverines to be trapped and killed each season. Wolverines are trapped for their fur.

“Wolverines are facing enormous threats from climate change and habitat loss, trapping should not be one of them,” said Arlene Montgomery, Program Director for Friends of the Wild Swan. “We are pleased that the judge granted the restraining order so that he can fully evaluate this important issue.

Since being designated a “candidate” species for ESA protection, local residents have submitted extensive comments to the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission asking the agency to end the trapping of wolverines. The Commissioners did not respond or otherwise address these comments. The State also refused to address the merits of a formal petition submitted by Mr. Bishop on behalf of the same eight conservation groups and one individual asking the State to adopt a new rule ending the trapping of wolverines until they are no longer a candidate or listed species under the ESA.

Trapping is the major source of wolverine mortality in Montana and has had significant negative effects on subpopulations inhabiting Montana’s small, isolated island ranges. In one study spanning a three year period, of the 14 wolverines researchers followed in the Pioneer Mountains, six were killed in traps, including four adult males and two pregnant females, killing half of the estimated wolverine population there. 

The Western Environmental Law Center is representing Helena Hunters and Anglers Association, Friends of the Wild Swan, Montana Ecosystem Defense Council, Native Ecosystems Council, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Swan View Coalition, Wild Earth Guardians, Footloose Montana and Mr. George Wuerthner.

Read the judge’s order here: http://www.westernlaw.org/sites/default/files/TRO.Order_.Granting.11.30.12.pdf

 

PRESS RELEASE : CIVIL ACTION LAWSUIT FILED ON BEHALF OF FOOTLOOSE MONTANA ET AL.

October 11, 2012

Contact: Matthew Bishop, Attorney, Western Environmental Law Center, 406-324-8011 (office) or 406-422-9866 (cell)

Lawsuit Filed to Halt Trapping of Rare Wolverine in Montana

Helena, MT – Today, the Western Environmental Law Center, on behalf of eight conservation groups and one individual, filed a lawsuit to halt wolverine trapping in Montana until the species‟ population has recovered.

On December 14, 2010, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service determined that the wolverine deserves federal protection under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). However, the agency also said it could not undertake the necessary rulemaking process for lack of time, so the wolverine remains a “candidate” species awaiting protective status.

Montana is the only state in the Lower 48 that still allows the rare wolverine to be trapped. Montana‟s wolverine population is estimated at 100-175 animals, with no more than 35 individuals capable of producing offspring. The current quota in Montana allows five wolverines to be trapped and killed each season. Wolverines are trapped for their fur.

“Wolverines are tough animals, but they need all the help they can get right now in the face of a warming planet with shrinking and increasingly fragmented habitat,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center who is representing the groups. “Trapping wolverine under these circumstances is making an already bleak situation worse.”

Since being designated a “candidate” species for ESA protection, members of the public have submitted extensive comments to the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission asking the agency to end the trapping of wolverines. The Commissioners did not respond or otherwise address these comments. The State also refused to address the merits of a formal petition submitted by Mr. Bishop on behalf of the same eight conservation groups and one individual asking the State to adopt a new rule ending the trapping of wolverines until they are no longer a candidate or listed species under the ESA.

“Montana state law requires Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks to „assist in the maintenance or recovery‟ of wolverines. We hoped to avoid litigation when we filed our petition in August. Unfortunately, the State refused to consider the science included in our petition and halt the needless trapping of these imperiled animals,” Bishop added.

“So now we‟re compelled to follow the only course left open to us, which is to seek judicial review.”

Wolverine require cold climates where deep snow remains into late May so females can dig secure snow caves called “dens” to raise their young. Such conditions are disappearing nationwide due to climate change. Even in Glacier National Park, which holds the largest population of wolverines in Montana, what remains of the Park‟s once-vast icefields is melting rapidly, and scientists say the glaciers could be gone completely within 20 years. Warming temperatures are also increasing the distance — and thus fragmentation — between areas of viable wolverine habitat, making it more difficult for the species to successfully reproduce and increasing the likelihood of fatal inbreeding.

Trapping is the major source of wolverine mortality in Montana and has had significant negative effects on subpopulations inhabiting Montana‟s small, isolated island ranges. In one study spanning a three year period, of the 14 wolverines researchers followed in the Pioneer Mountains, six were killed in traps, including four adult males and two pregnant females, killing half of the estimated wolverine population there.

“We’re lucky to see wolverine on rare occasions here in the Swan Range of Northwest Montana” said the Swan View Coalition‟s Keith Hammer. “This area is where they were first studied back in the 1970s, but trapping killed five times more wolverine than natural causes and killed nearly two-thirds of the wolverines being studied in just five years. Trapping must stop if these rare and wonderful animals are to return from the brink of extinction.”

“This is the right thing to do — morally, scientifically, socially and ecologically — for the future of wolverine and the future of trapping in Montana,” said Gary Ingman, a board member of the Helena Hunters and Anglers Association. “The biological models show that the current population levels are simply not self-sustaining and nowhere near high enough to provide recreational trapping opportunities in Montana.”

The Western Environmental Law Center is representing Helena Hunters and Anglers Association, Friends of the Wild Swan, Montana Ecosystem Defense Council, Native Ecosystems Council, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Swan View Coalition, Wild Earth Guardians, Footloose Montana and Mr. George Wuerthner.

The complaint can be read here: http://www.westernlaw.org/sites/default/files/Complaint..Wolverine.Final_.October.11.2012.pdf

The Western Environmental Law Center is a non-profit public interest law firm that uses the power of the law to defend and protect the American West’s treasured landscapes, iconic wildlife and rural communities.

Local Groups Petition Montana to Halt Trapping of Rare Wolverine

Helena, Mont. – The Western Environmental Law Center, on behalf of eigt local conservation groups and one individual, submitted a formal petition yesterday to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission (“MFWP”) to halt the trapping of wolverine in Montana – the only state in the contiguous U.S. that still allows the imperiled animal to be trapped.

Wolverines resemble a small bear that is custom built for high-elevation, mountain living.  They have large, crampon-clawed feet designed for digging, climbing, and walking on snow, and an extremely high metabolic rate. Its double fur coat includes a dense inner layer of wool beneath a cover of frost-shedding guard hairs and is the reason trappers target the animal.

Once prolific across the West, the wolverine population in the Lower 48 is now down to no more than 250-300 individuals. Montana has the highest concentration of wolverine in the Lower 48, but still only about 100-175 individuals.  A substantial number of the remaining wolverines in Montana are likely unsuccessful breeders or non-breeding subadults.  This means Montana’s “effective population” of individuals who are able to breed is significantly smaller, perhaps less than 40.

So rare are these native carnivores that in December 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”) designated the wolverine a species that warrants protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, but the level of protection has not yet been determined.  The Service determined that an already small and vulnerable population of wolverine in the lower 48 will continue to decline in the face of climate change, which is causing a reduction in suitable wolverine habitat in Montana (wolverine depend on late spring snow and cold temperatures) and increasing the speed by which isolated populations vanish. Warming temperatures are also increasing the distance, and thus fragmentation, between islands of suitable habitat.

“Authorizing the trapping of wolverines under these circumstances is making a bad situation worse,” said Matthew Bishop, a local attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, who is representing the petitioners. “Wolverines are the polar bear of the Lower 48 and need all the help they can get right now in the face of a warming planet, shrinking habitat, and increased isolation. Montana shouldn’t be kicking them when they’re down,” added Bishop.

Trapping is a major source of wolverine mortality in Montana and has had significant negative effects on wolverine inhabiting Montana’s small, isolated island ranges. In one study, of the 14 wolverines tracked in the Pioneer Mountains during a three-year period, 6 were killed in traps, including 4 adult males and two pregnant females.  As a result of trapping, the wolverine population in the Pioneers was reduced by an estimated 50%.

In another study of wolverine on the Flathead National Forest, trapping killed five times more wolverine than natural causes in a population that can ill afford it, killing nearly two-thirds of the wolverines being studied in just five years.

“We’re lucky to see wolverine on rare occasions here in the Swan Range of Northwest Montana, where they were first studied back in the 1970s,” said Keith Hammer, Chair of petitioner Swan View Coalition. He asserted, “Trapping must stop if these rare and wonderful animals are to return from the brink of extinction.”

Arlene Montgomery, Program Director of petitioner Friends of the Wild Swan, stated, “Trapping adds insult to injury for the wolverine.” She added, “They are already teetering on the brink from climate change and other threats. Trapping them is unnecessary and not sport.”

The petitioners are asking MFWP to close the wolverine trapping season now, before the 2012 trapping season begins on December 1, 2012, and to not reopen it until wolverine populations have recovered enough to no longer need protection of the Endangered Species Act.

“This is the right thing to do – morally, scientifically, socially, and ecologically – for the future of wolverine and the future of trapping in Montana,” said Gary Ingman, a board member of the Helena Hunters and Anglers Association, a local sportsmen’s group and petitioner. “The biological models show that the current population levels simply are not self-sustaining,” concluded Ingman.

A copy of the petition can be found here: westernlaw.org/sites/default/files/Wolverine_Trapping_Petition_MFWP_7.31.2012.pdf

The following organizations and individual joined WELC’s petition: 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 George Wuerthner.

The Western Environmental Law Center is a non-profit public interest law firm that uses the power of the law to defend and protect the American West’s treasured landscapes, iconic wildlife and rural communities.