Kylie Paul, Rockies and Plains Representative
News of wolverines, like the animal itself, tends to be scarce. So I was thrilled to see Gulo gulo pop its head up in the Denver Post a couple weeks ago. According to the story, a lone wolverine known as M56 was photographed this spring in Colorado, one of the few remaining places in the lower 48 where wolverines might find refuge on a warming planet.
M56 arrived from Wyoming nearly four years ago — the first known wolverine in Colorado in 90 years. He was originally collared near Grand Teton National Park and traveled hundreds of miles in just a few weeks. Now, Colorado wildlife managers are watching him to see how he adapts to his new home.
Only 250 to 300 wolverines are estimated to exist in the lower 48, and they generally stick to remote mountains. Wolverines need deep snow that persists into late spring to provide shelter for their young, and the Colorado Rockies are one of the few places that may maintain its snowpack as climate change alters alpine habitats elsewhere.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently considering whether to list wolverines under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in early 2013, and a final rule could be in place in early 2014. What happens then? For now, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is holding off on exploring opportunities to reintroduce wolverines. But state wildlife managers already have an excellent track record for similar efforts with other species. Between 1999 and 2006, the state successfully reintroduced more than 200 Canada lynx, and they have now established into a self-sustaining population. As of late September 2010, at least 141 lynx kittens had been born in the wild in Colorado since reintroduction began. With so few wolverines in the Rockies, it’s unlikely that M56 will be able to find a mate and start a family in Colorado without some extra assistance.
In the meantime, there is much ground work to be done. We’ve partnered with other conservation organizations and researchers in the Rockies to form a loose coalition. Our goal is to raise the profile of wolverines in the state and increase public support for potentially restoring the species to the wild. There are many options and stakeholders with a voice in the potential reintroduction matter, and decision-makers will try to balance those voices. We hope wolverine conservation will rise above the fray.
We’ll need your support in January and February when we expect the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make its decision regarding endangered species protections for wolverines. Stay tune to see how you can help! And just for fun, check out this amazing NATURE episode about wolverines from PBS called “Chasing the Phantom:”