by Laura Lundquist, Chronicle Staff Writer
Conservation groups filed a lawsuit Thursday to stop wolverine trapping, the same day the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission approved new rules for wolf trapping.
The Western Environmental Law Center requested an injunction in Helena on behalf of eight conservation groups to require that FWP halt trapping of wolverines until the declining population recovers.
“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 attorney Matthew Bishop in a prepared statement.
The plaintiffs include the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Helena Hunters and Anglers Association, the Friends of the Wild Swan and one individual, George Wuerthner.
In December 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged that wolverines deserved protection under the Endangered Species Act. But wolverines have to wait in line for listing behind several other threatened species.
FWP has determined that wolverines are potentially at risk for extinction because of declining numbers, range or habitat. In 2000, FWP wolverine counts peaked at 118 but have hovered in the single digits since 2006.
The lawsuit asserts that state law requires FWP to assist in the maintenance or recovery of wolverines. FWP isn’t upholding that law when it allows five wolverines to be trapped each season, the lawsuit said. FWP authorized wolverine trapping Aug. 2.
More than one-third of Montana has wolverine habitat, and Montana is the only state that allows trapping.
The lawsuit states Montana’s wolverine population is estimated at 100 to 175 animals, but only 35 are capable of reproducing.
A study conducted in the Pioneer Mountains south of Butte indicates that trapping is the primary cause of wolverine mortality. Six of 14 wolverines, including two pregnant females, died in traps over a three-year period.
Bishop said the groups tried to avoid filing a lawsuit.
They submitted comments at FWP Commission meetings earlier this year.
The same eight groups filed a formal petition in July asking the FWP Commission to end the trapping until the wolverine is no longer an endangered species candidate or a listed species. The commission denied the petition with no review on Sept. 21.
No commissioners could be reached Thursday for comment.