Editor’s Note: There are fewer than 300 wolverines in the contiguous United States. Wolverines were listed as a threatened species in the lower 48 states  under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in November 2023. But there are still exceptions to the protection for the wolverines. The following is a piece written by Mike Garrity, the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. He describes the legal situation regarding the protection of the wolverines. Finally the piece ends with a call for action to remove these exceptions.

Wolverines Protected Under the ESA. Here is the Rest of the Story

By Mike Garrity/Counterpunch

The Nov. 2023 issue of Scientific American reports that more than 1,600 species have been listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), but less than 6% of species have recovered. We have to start recovering species and with wolverine, we need to start by protecting their habitat and outlawing trapping there with real protective administrative rules or regulations, not weak protections that place imperiled wolverines on the road to extinction.

After more than 20 years of advocacy and litigation by the Western Environmental Law Center for the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Native Ecosystems Council, and other wildlife conservation groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that wolverines warrant federal protection as a threatened species under the ESA.

Protects species and the ecosystems upon which they depend

The purposes of the ESA are two-fold: to prevent extinction and to recover species. It therefore “protect[s] species and the ecosystems upon which they depend.”

We are thankful after two successful lawsuits and court orders that the Fish and Wildlife Service finally came to its senses and protected wolverines under the ESA. But like everything, the devil is in the details.

Wolverines are now protected under the ESA but the next step is recovering wolverines and the ecosystems upon which they depend. The Fish and Wildlife Service does this through administrative rules to issue regulations that are necessary to protect and recover species listed as threatened and their habitat.


The proposed administrative rule for wolverines has exceptions that include:

(1) taking, or killing, wolverines due to scientific research conducted on wolverines by a federal or Tribal biologists,

(2) incidental take or destruction of wolverine habitat from logging for the purposes of reducing wildfire,

(3) incidental take or killing of wolverines from legal trapping consistent with state and Tribal trapping rules.

Before our court victory stopped recreational wolverine trapping in Montana in 2012, trappers killed about a dozen wolverines a year. Since then, 12 wolverines have been accidentally trapped in Montana, leading to three deaths. In Idaho, nine wolverines have been trapped resulting in two deaths that they know of since 2017.

Lose a foot

Assuming a trapper could even release an angry wolverine from a trap, most animals released after their blood circulation was cut off to a foot for several days in subzero weather end up with their frozen foot falling off, according to the Carter Niemeyer, a retired trapper for U.S.D.A.’s Wildlife Services. It is hard enough for a wolverine with four feet to survive. It is almost impossible for a wolverine to survive in the wild with only three feet. Therefore, the death toll on wolverines from accidental trapping is most likely higher.

Continued Destruction of Wolverine Habitat

The proposed administrative exception to allow the destruction or “take” of wolverine habitat for logging that pretends to fireproof a forest is an exception that swallows the rule. Almost every logging or clearcutting project on national forests in wolverine habitat is now for “fireproofing forests,” which is impossible to do and is just an excuse to mow down our national forests for private profit. We cannot help reclusive wolverines recover if we continue to bulldoze logging roads through all of their habitat and clear-cut forests.

What you can do

Please consider asking to the Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the exceptions allowing trapping, clearcutting and bulldozing logging roads in wolverine habitat by: going to https://www.regulations.gov. In the search box, enter FWS-R6-ES-2023-0216, which is the docket number for this rulemaking.


(2) By hard copy: U.S. mail: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R6-ES- 2023-0216; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; MS: PRB/3W; 5275 Leesburg Pike; Falls Church, VA 22041–3803. Comments are due by January 28, 2024.

Thank you for considering commenting on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s pathetic wolverine regulations, which won’t recover wolverines.

Banner: Wolverine on rocky ground. Photo: Public Domain

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