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Wolverines now considered threatened species under Endangered Species Act

The North American wolverine has been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday. Officials said climate change has threatened the species. Less than 300 wolverines are estimated to live in the contiguous U.S., according to the National Wildlife Federation

The designation will give the species protection, requiring federal agencies to ensure their actions are unlikely to jeopardize wolverines, according to the agency. The Endangered Species Act, enacted in 1973, establishes protections for fish, wildlife and plants that are listed as threatened or endangered.

"Current and increasing impacts of climate change and associated habitat degradation and fragmentation are imperiling the North American wolverine," Fish and Wildlife Pacific Regional Director Hugh Morrison said. "Based on the best available science, this listing determination will help to stem the long-term impact and enhance the viability of wolverines in the contiguous United States."

A North American Wolverine
The North American wolverine has been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday.   Getty Images/iStockphoto

Authorities have also described moose, salmon, snowshoe hares, American pikas, sea turtles, puffins, Alaskan caribou, piping plovers, polar bears and crocodiles as being at risk from climate change

Climate change has been a threat to wolverines in the U.S. for more than a decade; the loss of the wolverine's wintry habitat has been linked to climate change. U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials in 2011 tried to add wolverines to the Endangered Species Act. 

Wolverine populations were decimated in the early 20th century by wide-ranging and aggressive trapping and poisoning campaigns. In the decades since, environmentalists have researched the elusive animals using historical data on wolverine occurrence, analyses of habitat factors, geographic information system mapping, radio-telemetry tracking and genetic studies.

Today, they live within the Northern Rocky Mountains and North Cascade Mountains in the contiguous U.S. and in alpine regions, boreal forests and tundra of Alaska and Canada, officials said. Last year, officials with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources documented what was only the eighth confirmed wolverine sighting in Utah since 1979. 

The wolverine population in Alaska is considered stable, the National Park Service said. 

Wolverines are in the Mustelidae family, a group of carnivorous mammals, along with weasels, mink, marten and otters, according got the National Park Service. The carnivores are described as powerful, aggressive, territorial and tenacious. 

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