After a long legal battle, the wolverine will now be listed under the Endangered Species Act. The decision is a controversial one because the main threat to the future of this species is no longer hunting or trapping, but the loss of snow. Wolverines require snowpack to build their dens and raise their young.
Listing the wolverine as an endangered species brings renewed attention to the threat of climate change on species. It also raises questions about what we can do, and what we should be required to do, to protect species against the effects of climate change.
Opponents say listing the wolverine based on the threat of climate change doesn’t provide an actionable plan to bring the species numbers back up, and also claim that it could mean a free pass for the government to list practically any species as endangered.
“Private property advocates warn that the climate change argument, used in conjunction with the Endangered Species Act, could ultimately lead to the shuttering of power plants, oil fields or coal mines in the name of protecting any number of species,” reports The Washington Times.
But if those things causing climate change are also causing the extinction of species, then perhaps it’s time to factor them into the Endangered Species Act (ESA)? Those against the listing say the ruling changes the way the ESA has been interpreted since it became law in 1973. But much has changed since 1973, including our understanding of human-caused climate change.
The wolverine’s listing will help the ESA keep up with the times, but it also raises big questions about the roles and boundaries of the ESA. How far should regulations go when protecting a species against changing temperatures, a complex and global issue?
The contentious ruling underscores the political pressures surrounding climate change science and how it affects laws about wilderness and wildlife.
Though it’s a win both for the wolverine and for climate science, the ruling still brings many questions to the table, questions that will have to be addressed as climate change is factored into the reasons for listing a species as endangered and the extent of protections offered for those species.
These are political issues that are sure to create difficult legal battles surrounding endangered species in the future.