A new comment period on the proposed wolverine listing rule has opened this week. Although the public may comment to express general support of (or opposition to) wolverine listing, the main purpose of the 30-day comment period appears to be gathering of new scientific information that may be relevant to the wolverine’s status.
Back in April, a Montana judge ruled that the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2014 decision to withdraw the proposed listing rule ignored good science, and ordered the agency to reconsider. This was not an order to list wolverines, but the text of the decision makes it clear that the inexplicable abandonment of a listing rule in which the science clearly suggests threat was a misstep in a process that should have led to ‘threatened’ status under the ESA. The USFWS is now saying that the April 2016 ruling sends the process back to the open comment period, and an entirely new review of the wolverine’s status.
In some respects, this makes sense – the original proposed rule was written in 2013, and additional work has been done on the species since then. The judge also found that the original rule failed to adequately consider the effects of genetic isolation and trapping, even in the absence of climate threats. This suggests that at least portions of the rule would have to be rewritten to accommodate these additional concerns.
On the other hand, the timeline is now pushed out to (speculatively) 2018, and it’s likely that there will be additional comment and scientific review periods that will occur before a decision is made, which is at odds with the sense of urgency that the judge expressed. Significantly, this longer timeline will also allow the results of the upcoming multi-state wolverine study – a one-winter effort to determine the distribution of wolverines and create an occupancy model throughout the western US – to be incorporated into the status review. Hopefully, it will also allow the inclusion of potentially important data from the Wolverine Winter Recreation Project, which looked at the effects of motorized and non-motorized recreation on wolverines, and which turned up some interesting observations on other dynamics as well.
It will be interesting to see how this process moves forward. I’ll share a few thoughts on the evolution of my attitudes towards listing in a future post. In the meantime, if you want to comment, you can do so through this site, which also contains links to supporting documentation. The comment period closes on November 17th.