The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service In October decided to withhold Endangered Species Act designation of the American Wolverine. That decision has caused a group of at least 10 conservation organizations to file a suit objecting to that ruling.

A lawsuit was filed in Missoula this month requesting protection for the wolverine. Earthjustice is representing the group in the courts. In a news release. Jonathan Proctor of Defenders of Wildlife said, "We have been seeking federal protections for wolverines for more than two decades and we will not abandon them now. The threats to wolverines are very real and the Fish and wildlife Service must act on its duty to protect this animal." The news release listed climate change, habitat fragmentation and low genetic diversity as dangers for localized extinction.

A petition requesting protection for the animal was submitted to U.S. Fish and Wildlife in 2000, but this fall the department stated that protection was not needed and withdrew the protection proposal, noting, "New research and analysis show that wolverine populations in the American Northwest remain stable, and individuals are moving across the Canadian border in both directions and returning to former territories. The species, therefore, does not meet the definition of threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act."

However, studies from groups like the Sierra Club and Earthjustice estimates only a few hundred wolverines exist in the Pacific Northwest, citing a shrinking snowpack as one of the main reasons needed for protection.

For the past few years, volunteers have been setting up monitoring stations in the Bitterroot Valley on the edge of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. Other studies have been conducted throughout the Pacific Northwest to catch glimpses of the elusive and fierce creature, which is the largest member of the weasel family. An adult male can weigh up to 40 pounds and females can be about 30 pounds. Wolverines are found in Canada and Alaska, with its southern range reaching into the states of Washington, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

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