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Dec 03, 2013 04:52 PM EST

Wolverine's Status Change To Threatened Species Thwarted By Western United States Wildlife Agencies Interested In Fur

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services proposed to protect wolverines, which inhabit Alaska, Canada, and colder regions of the continental United States including parts of Utah, Montana,  Idaho, California, Colorado, Wyoming, Oregon, and Washington, in February of 2013. Since then, their ruling has been delayed twice by western wildlife branches such as the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (MFWP), which don't believe the wolverines quite qualify as threatened and value the bear-like animals for their fur. The latest comment period, in which both sides presented supporting research, ended on Monday, Dec. 2; the MFWP has asked for a third extension, The Western News reported.

Though wolverines could pass for small bears, they are actually the largest version of weasels on earth, according to National Geographic. The tireless eaters feast on everything from vegetables to prey double their size, such as caribou or moose (typically weakened or injured). Wolverines aren't exceptionally fast, but their giant paws allow them to move exceptionally well on snow, a surface on which they frequently travel. After 1920, they'd disappeared from the United States because of trapping and poisoning, but have since recouped their numbers because of better regulation, according to the Fish and Wildlife Services.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services petitioned for their protection earlier this year because they believed climate change had threatened the wolverine's native environment (the edict would only be for the continental United States; Alaska, Canada, and the worldwide population of wolverines wouldn't qualify).  Wildlife officials estimate less than 300 of the fierce weasels remain in the Lower 48, according to The Western News.

Western United States wildlife officials don't feel climate change alone is enough justification for the wolverine's protection.

 "Climate change models are not a reason to list species under the Endangered Species Act," Bill Bates, from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, told The Salt Lake Tribune. "We can wait and see what happens with climate change in the next 20 to 30 years."

"We want to do what's best for those animals, those species to keep them healthy, viable, so we're real interested in doing what's right, we just don't believe there's any need to put them on the endangered species list yet." Said Montana FWP spokesperson Ron Aasheim.

Proponents of climate change argue that global warming has affected wolverines much like it has already affected polar bears. Research has shown that wolverines require snow 5 months out of the year and fewer areas are meeting that condition, according to The Western News.

"Wolverines are in the coldest and snowiest places in the lower 48 during that time, and they also seem to use that area year-round," said Shawn Sartorius, a FWS biologist for endangered species.

No reports yet if the federal government will make the wolverine a threatened species or if they will grant a third delay.

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