I came out of the mountains and returned to Ulaanbaatar two days ago to find that the US Fish and Wildlife Service has come to an agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity over a May 2011 lawsuit regarding candidate species for the Endangered Species Act, giving all candidates equal priority for a decision on status. The wolverine is among the candidate species initially excluded from the review but now included, with an estimated decision date of 2013.
The initial May 2011 agreement between the Obama administration and environmental groups would have prioritized decisions on 251 species that were deemed warranted for protection, but precluded due to funding constraints; the USFWS would have been required to make a decision by 2016 on all species granted candidate status before November 2010. This was great news for species that had been on the waiting list since the 1970’s (though tragically ironic, of course, for the 24 that went extinct while awaiting status reviews), but it didn’t do much good for those species – gulos among them – that were given candidate status after the November 2010 cut-off date. Environmental groups, in exchange, had agreed not to begin further lawsuits against the USFWS until the reviews were complete. The Center for Biological Diversity withdrew from the May agreement, claiming that the government was attempting to evade the issue of climate sensitive wildlife; in response, a second agreement expands the review to consider all species by 2018.
This is probably good news for wolverines, since the evidence of threat due to climate change is strong. There is no guarantee, however, that the final review will actually put wolverines on the list; we can only hope that it will. Beyond 2013, regardless of whether the wolverine gains legal status as a threatened or endangered species, a massive amount of work remains before its future can be assured, and almost none of that work – reducing carbon emissions, shifting from a fossil-fuel based economy – can be instigated or enforced by the ESA. That’s a much bigger task, and it belongs to all of us.