By Deborah Courson Smith Big Sky Connection

BOZEMAN – The wheels are in motion to list the wolverine as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. There are fewer than 300 of the big weasels left in the lower 48 states, mostly in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Washington.

Kylie Paul, Rockies and Plains representative at Defenders of Wildlife, explained that a listing won’t bring big changes to human activities or land use: no effects on skiing, snowmobiling, timber harvests or infrastructure projects. But she expressed hope that the listing will bring more attention to wolverines and the threats they face.

“A lot of people don’t know what a wolverine is because there are so few of them, and because they’re in such mountainous terrain,” she noted. “Bringing the wolverine into the light will be really important, because climate change is their primary threat.”

Paul said wolverines need deep snowpack that lasts into mid-spring for denning, digging snow caves up to 15 feet deep before producing young. With the listing, she said, trapping of wolverines would cease in the contiguous states, something that is currently allowed on a limited basis in Montana.

Paul said scientists predict that wolverines in the lower 48 are likely to lose up to two-thirds of their snow-covered habitat by the end of this century, because of climate change.

“It’s tough to battle climate change itself, but steps can be taken to help bolster their population, so that in the longer term they will have a better chance to sustain into the warming future,” she said.

One strategy to help the wolverines would be helping them reclaim habitats, such as a reintroduction in Colorado, if that state agrees to it. She added that the wolverine is a member of the weasel family, and not related to wolves, which is sometimes a source of confusion.

Public comments will be accepted on the proposal before it becomes final later this year. The complete proposal is at s3amazonaws.com.