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US officials: Climate change not a threat to rare wolverine

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California Department of Fish and Wildlife

FILE - This on Feb. 27, 2016, file photo provided by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, from a remote camera set by biologist Chris Stermer, shows a mountain wolverine in the Tahoe National Forest near Truckee, Calif., a rare sighting of the predator in the state. U.S. wildlife officials are withdrawing proposed protections for the snow-loving wolverine after determining the rare and elusive predator is not as threatened by climate change as once thought. (Chris Stermer/California Department of Fish and Wildlife via AP, File)

BILLINGS, Mont. – U.S. wildlife officials are withdrawing proposed protections for the snow-loving wolverine after determining the rare and elusive predator is not as threatened by climate change as once thought.

Details on the decision were obtained by The Associated Press in advance of an announcement Thursday.

A federal judge four years ago had blocked an attempt to withdraw protections that were first proposed in 2010, pointing to evidence from government scientists that wolverines were “squarely in the path of climate change."

But years of additional research suggest the animals' prevalence is expanding, not contracting, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials said. And they predict that enough snow will persist at high elevations for wolverines to den in mountain snowfields each spring despite warming temperatures.

“Wolverines have come back down from Canada and they are repopulating these areas in the Lower 48 that they historically occupied,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Justin Shoemaker. “There’s going to be significant areas of snow pack in the spring at the time they would need it and the levels they would need it.”

Wildlife advocates expressed doubts about the rationale for the move and said they are likely to challenge it in court.

“They are putting the wolverine on the path to extinction," said Andrea Zaccardi with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Wolverines, also known as “mountain devils,” were wiped out across most of the U.S. by the early 1900s following unregulated trapping and poisoning campaigns. They're slowly clawing their way back in some areas, according to biologists, who no longer consider the relatively few wolverines in the Lower 48 states to be an isolated population. Instead, they are believed to be linked to a much larger population in Canada.