Like so many Michigan natives, the wolverine is tough, feisty — and, these days, mostly living elsewhere. But if wildlife groups have their way, the ill-tempered mammal that gave its name to the Wolverine State and University of Michigan teams may win federal protection and, someday, make a Michigan comeback.

Believed to have once ranged from Maine to Washington state, it is now largely limited to the mountain states. It was believed to be gone from Michigan before hunters spied one in the thumb region in 2004.

The federal bureaucracy hasn't exactly been kind, either. In 2000, activists asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to declare wolverines endangered. After two years of delay, the agency declined.

But a federal judge in Idaho last year ordered a full examination of the wolverine's plight. This month, Fish and Wildlife began accepting public comment. Federal officials must rule by February.

Mike Senatore of Defenders of Wildlife said if the animal gains federal protection, officials could reintroduce the animal to Michigan.

Senatore, a Detroit native, said there have been not-quite-serious discussions of enlisting the help of the nation's most famous wolverines: the University of Michigan kind. Predictably, the wolverine has supporters there.