Wolverines, one of the West’s most elusive high-country predators may soon find a place on the endangered species list because of climate threats to the deep snow and frigid temperatures they need to survive.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday a proposal to list wolverines as a threatened species. It also proposed establishing a nonessential population area for any wolverines reintroduced into portions of the southern Rocky Mountains.

A listing decision will likely have limited impact on land activities in Wyoming. Wolverines and humans have little interaction because the animals live in such high, wilderness terrain. Hunting and trapping of wolverines would become illegal under the proposal, but Montana is the only state that allows trapping, said Shawn Sartorius, a fish and wildlife biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Wolverines have been protected from hunting and trapping in Wyoming by state law since 1973. As with more well-known species such as polar bears, the biggest threat to wolverines is habitat loss because of climate change.

“When we list something, we not only look at the current situation, but we are required to project what threats may exist in the future,” Sartorius said.

“This is an unusual case in which the species is actually doing pretty well right now … But now we have information that shows wolverine habitat is likely to be directly impacted by climate change.”

Studies show wolverine habitat will reduce significantly over the next 30 years and very significantly over the next 70 or 80 years. Wildlife officials hope a listing will bolster wolverine numbers before their habitat dwindles, Sartorius said.

Wolverines live at or above the timberline and require deep snow and freezing temperatures into late spring. They make their dens 20 feet deep in snow-covered boulder fields and avalanche wreckage. They rarely reproduce every year and live in only small, isolated pockets high in the Rocky Mountains.

Humans essentially eradicated them by the 1930s in the lower 48 through hunting, trapping and poison. New populations started forming in the 1950s from wolverines from Canada, Sartorius said.

Officials roughly estimate about 250 to 300 wolverines live in the lower 48, but Sartorius stresses the number is only a guess. Until the mid-2000s, wildlife officials knew very little about wolverines.

Fewer than 30 wolverines currently live within Wyoming, mostly in the Wind River Range, Tetons and Absarokas, said Bob Oakleaf, nongame coordinator for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

The proposal also includes the possibility of reintroducing wolverines into areas in Colorado. It does not require reintroduction, but establishes a nonessential status in some of those areas to give states more freedom to bring the animal back. If wolverines are reintroduced into Colorado, their range could include sections of Albany and Carbon counties, Sartorius said.

As a nonessential population, those reintroduced wolverines would not be afforded the same protections as the already existing populations in northwest Wyoming. The classification is the same used by the Fish and Wildlife Service to reintroduce black-footed ferrets into Shirley Basin.

A possible wolverine listing brings resources and public attention to the elusive animal, said Kylie Paul, Rockies and Plains representative with Defenders of Wildlife.

“Increasing their population to help sustain them longer into the future is what we can do now,” she said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service decided in 2010 wolverines qualified for listing under the Endangered Species Act but had other priorities. A final decision on the listing will come within one year.

Reach Open Spaces reporter Christine Peterson at 307-746-3121 or christine.peterson@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter @PetersonOutside.

(12) comments

Sassy
Sassy

There goes backcountry activities like skiing, snowmachining, hiking, snowshoeing, climbing , etc

Cowboy Joe
Cowboy Joe

How many activities have been curtailed due to lynx habitat?

Sassy
Sassy

Are you kidding- Wake up man

Godrock
Godrock

Well I should change out my engine now; because I'm sure I will soon need an oil change. Too much too soon. These people need a hobby. Something to do...

AH HA
AH HA

As usual, you only get part of the truth out of US Fish and Wildlife Service.

"Hunting and trapping of wolverines would become illegal under the proposal, but Montana is the only state that allows trapping, said Shawn Sartorius, a fish and wildlife biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Service."

Alaska offers (and always has) open season for trapping of Wolverines each year from November 10 through February 15. There is no limit however the furs taken must be sealed within thirty days of the end of season.

Oddly, high mountain terrain and deep snow are not where we normally find wolverines. We generally find them on side hills or low ridges in timbered areas that are more protected from deep snow.

Here is some advice from a lifelong Alaskan,…. It has long been our experience that the whenever the Feds start talking about ‘protecting’ something you had best watch them closely since the one certain thing is that they are NOT ‘protecting’ you.

I urge the people of Wyoming and Colorado to watch this issue closely. You could start by doing a quick fact check of this article.

K
K

Just wanting to make sure everyone is clear on 2 important points:

This proposed listing is just for the lower 48 states, so it does not include Alaska in any way. Indeed, wolverine biology is unique in the lower 48 compared to Alaska and elsewhere - here, they do stick generally to high elevation, particularly for denning, though they can and do make movements across lower elevations.

Also: this listing will not curtail human activities. The listing document states: "The available
scientific and commercial information does not indicate that other potential stressors such
as land management, recreation, infrastructure development, and transportation corridors
pose a threat to the [wolverine in the lower 48]."
Activities that are otherwise legal activities involving wolverines and their habitat that are conducted in accordance with applicable State, Federal, tribal, and local laws and regulations will continue to be allowed including:
(i) Dispersed recreation such as snowmobiling, skiing, backpacking, and hunting
for other species; (ii) Management activities by Federal agencies and private landowners such as timber harvest, wildland firefighting, prescribed fire, and silviculture; (iii) transportation corridor and urban development; (iv) Mining.


Sassy
Sassy

K

I don't believe you- or the USFW

mcfromkc
mcfromkc

Sassy, great deductive reasoning skills there. K was quoting from the listing document. Perhaps you could share the information that led you to arrive at your conclusion?
I also seriously doubt that any restrictions associated with this listing would affect somebody who only goes as far as far into the backcountry as their horse can carry them.
And Sassy once again FYI, this is a public forum and your comments are visible to anyone who visits the site so you can let go of your paranoia that somebody is stalking you.

Sassy
Sassy

Mc your ignorance amazes me ( to be read selective cognition)

USFW conducts a study , land managing agencies ( to be read USFS. BLM etc) jump on the bandwagon and write prescriptions for allowable uses in the study area BINGO, Access is shut down.

Thor
Thor

I'm trying to understand this. Wolverines are the most elusive of animals, yet we think we are going to increase the size of their habitat because we want to. And we are going to increase the size of their habitat because the size of their habitat is going to shrink. And in that shrinking habitat area, we are going to increase the numbers of them. Hmm....

mcfromkc
mcfromkc

Sassy, you might have a shred of credibility if you could cite actual examples instead of your paranoid fantasies, like your fixation with the state parks administration.
In any case, only a handful of backcountry users ever venture into the habitats we're talking about so maybe you could explain a little further how this is going curtail your activities.
Gee, we wouldn't want to restrict anyone from ripping around on their sleds just to preserve a little wildlife habitat would we?

Sassy
Sassy

Mc

Pick any species that has been studied and given a T&E designation. Once the designation is made-- look out--- public access will change

Pick your species- Lynx, preble mouse, Wyoming Toad, Lady Slipper,etc

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