HELENA -- Eight conservation groups and one individual are asking a Helena judge to stop Montana’s wolverine trapping season, saying their population is “imperiled” and that the animal is a candidate for protection under federal statutes.
The trapping season is set to begin Dec. 1, with a total of five wolverines allowed to be taken statewide. Wolverines are trapped for their fur.
The groups filed a formal petition in August asking Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to adopt a new rule ending the trapping of wolverines until they are no longer a candidate or listed species under the Endangered Species Act.
Neither the FWP Commission nor FWP Director Joe Maurier responded to the petition. But on Thursday, FWP spokesman Ron Aasheim said the current quota is sustainable and the state has no intention to harm the overall wolverine population.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in December 2010 that the wolverine deserves federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, but 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 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,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center who is representing the groups. “So now we’re compelled to follow the only course left open to us, which is to seek judicial review.”
The lawsuit was filed in Lewis and Clark District Court by 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 George Wuerthner.
Montana is the only state in the Lower 48 that still allows the wolverine to be trapped. The state is home to between 100 and 175 animals
Mike Garrity, executive director of the Helena-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said their main home range is in Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, but they’re also found in the mountains around Helena.
“They’re in the Little Belt Mountains due west of here, and their travel corridor goes through the Big Belt Mountains, and along MacDonald Pass, to Lincoln, into the Scapegoat Wilderness Area and over to the Mission Mountains,” Garrity said. “They also follow the Continental Divide south.”
Wolverines require cold climates where deep snow remains into late May so females can dig secure dens in the snow to raise their young. The groups say those conditions are disappearing nationwide due to climate change, and that warming temperatures also are increasing the distance between viable habitat, making it more difficult for wolverines to reproduce.
“Trapping wolverine under these circumstances is making an already bleak situation worse,” Bishop said.
Gary Ingman, a board member of the Helena Hunters and Anglers Association, said that stopping wolverine trapping is the right thing to do – morally, scientifically, socially and ecologically.
“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,” Ingman added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.