By Laura Zuckerman
SALMON Idaho (Reuters) - U.S. wildlife managers on Tuesday denied federal protections for rare wolverines, outraging conservationists but pleasing Western states that opposed adding the reclusive but feisty member of the weasel family to the endangered and threatened species list.
Last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed applying Endangered Species Act safeguards for the estimated 300 wolverines left in the Lower 48 states, most of which inhabit the high country of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
The service had said global warming was reducing mountain snows the animals use to dig dens and store food.
But on Tuesday federal wildlife managers said there was "insufficient evidence" that climate change would harm wolverines, which resemble small bears with bushy tails and which are known for their ferocious defense of their young.
"After carefully considering the best available science, the Service has determined that the effects of climate change are not likely to place the wolverine in danger of extinction now or in the foreseeable future," Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Gavin Shire said in a statement.
The decision was welcomed in states such as Montana, which will determine next year whether to reinstate a limited wolverine trapping season that was suspended in 2012 after a lawsuit by conservationists.
Listing would have banned trapping of wolverines, which are prized for their fur, and imposed restrictions on snowmobiling and other winter recreation in areas inhabited by the solitary creatures.
Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said Tuesday's decision was part of a disturbing trend by the Obama administration of managing imperiled wildlife based on pressure by states and industry instead of science.
"All of the science points to the wolverine being in serious trouble. The Service's own biologists said global warming was pushing the wolverine toward extinction and urged listing," he said.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Sandra Maler)