Wolverine deemed ‘threatened’
By Mike Koshmrl and the Associated Press, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Date: February 2, 2013
The elusive, aggressive and little-understood wolverine is positioned to land Endangered Species Act protections.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended listing the species as “threatened” under the act Friday. There are still some administrative and legal hurdles before the status is official, said Jason Wilmot, executive director of the Jackson-based Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative.
“I think it’s an appropriate decision, and I’m glad it’s happening,” Wilmot said. “It’s a proposed rule, and it has to be formalized still, but I think essentially the decision is made. Basically, they’re listed as threatened.”
It is estimated that there are 250 to 300 wolverines in the Lower 48 states, but the number in Wyoming and Jackson Hole is unknown, said Bob Inman, a carnivore biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society.
“Wyoming is a big question mark,” Inman said over the phone from Mon-tana. “All of our estimates of population size are crude and pretty much guesswork. This is how little research has been done. It’s not even clear if wolverines exist in places as large as the Wind River Range.”
Biologists’ models show that the Wind River, Gros Ventre, Wyoming, Salt, Bighorn and Absaroka ranges all provide suitable habitat for the 17- to 40-pound mustelid, Inman said. But due to extremely low population distribution, occupancy of these ranges is unknown, he said.
“This species has very large home ranges and they’re territorial,” he said.
The species’ existence in the Teton Range “epitomizes” this dynamic, Inman said. Due to a 10-year research project Inman headed, local population dynamics are relatively well understood there. The study, completed in 2010, identified two females and two males making use of the entire Teton Range.
“The population is probably between four and seven individuals, depending on whether there’s young that year,” Inman said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service recommended protections primarily because of the effect of a warming Mountain West. Because of climate change, in some areas, such as central Idaho, suitable habitat could disappear entirely, officials said.
Yet because those losses could take decades to unfold, federal wildlife officials said there’s still time to bolster the population, including by reintroducing them to the high mountains of Colorado.
“This is a species there is still time to do something about,” said Mike Thabault, ecological services director for Fish and Wildlife’s Mountain-Prairie Region.
Friday’s proposal also allows Colorado’s wildlife agency to reintroduce an experimental population of wolverines that could eventually spill into neighboring portions of New Mexico and Wyoming. Colorado has enough high-mountain terrain to support up to 100 more animals.
Any reintroduction into Colorado would require approval from state wildlife commissioners and Legislature, Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said.
Other areas where wolverines once roamed could also serve as future refuges. Those include portions of Utah, Oregon’s Cascade Range, Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains and the Sierra Nevada, said Shawn Sartorius, a biologist with Fish and Wildlife based in Montana.
A “threatened” status would shut down wolverine trapping in Montana, the only one of the Lower 48 states where the practice is still allowed. The quota there is five animals annually.
This year’s trapping season was blocked by a state court order, but Montana officials hope to restore trapping next year. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim said the state will review the federal proposal and on Friday had not yet settled on a response.