By Laura Zuckerman
SALMON Idaho (Reuters) - Conservationists said on Wednesday they will sue the Obama administration over its decision to deny federal protections for rare wolverines in the mountains of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
In a 60-day notice of intent to file the suit, a coalition of 13 conservation groups told the administration that politics underpinned this week's decision, instead of the "best available science" as required by the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed adding the estimated 300 wolverines in the Lower 48 states to the federal endangered and threatened species list, saying global warming was reducing snows in the high country that the animals depend on for digging dens and storing food.
But on Tuesday federal wildlife managers said there was "insufficient evidence" that climate change would severely harm wolverines, carnivores from the weasel family that resemble small bears with bushy tails. Wolverines are known for their cantankerous disposition and fearless defense of their territories.
The Obama administration's decision on wolverines came after states such as Idaho opposed the proposed listing, which would have banned the trapping of the animals and imposed restrictions on snowmobiling and other winter recreation in areas inhabited by the solitary creatures.
Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians, one of the 13 groups, said peer-reviewed scientific studies show wolverines depend on snow, and that the amount of snow in their range is expected to decrease because of a warming U.S. West.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service's own biologists recommended listing and then the agency did an about face after complaints by states and industry," she said. "Science and the law are on the side of saving the wolverine from extinction."
The Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Bill Trott)