Skip to main content
Advertising

Originally published Friday, February 1, 2013 at 10:12 AM

  • Share:
             
  • Comments (0)
  • Print

APNewsBreak: Feds: Warming imperils wolverines

The tenacious wolverine, a snow-loving carnivore sometimes called the "mountain devil," could soon join the list of species threatened by climate change - a dubious distinction that will put it in the ranks of the polar bear and several other animals that could see their habitats shrink drastically due to warming temperatures.

Associated Press

Most Popular Comments
Hide / Show comments
No comments have been posted to this article.
Start the conversation >

advertising

BILLINGS, Mont. —

The tenacious wolverine, a snow-loving carnivore sometimes called the "mountain devil," could soon join the list of species threatened by climate change - a dubious distinction that will put it in the ranks of the polar bear and several other animals that could see their habitats shrink drastically due to warming temperatures.

Federal wildlife officials on Friday will propose Endangered Species Act protections for the wolverine in the lower 48 states, a step twice denied under the Bush administration.

The Associated Press obtained details of the government's long-awaited ruling in advance of Friday's announcement.

It's likely to mean an end to trapping the animals for their fur. But federal officials said other human activities - from snowmobiling and skiing to infrastructure development and transportation corridors - do not appear to be significant threats to wolverines and would not be curtailed.

There are an estimated 250 to 300 wolverines in the contiguous U.S., clustered in small, isolated groups primarily in the Northern Rockies of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Washington. Larger populations persist in Alaska and Canada.

Maxing out at 40 pounds and tough enough to stand up to grizzly bears, the animals will be no match for anticipated declines in deep mountain snows that female wolverines need to establish dens and raise their young, scientists said.

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 the Fish and Wildlife Service's mountain-prairie region.

He added that more wolverines in more places could help offset habitat losses, with Colorado playing "a key role" in that strategy.

Wildlife advocates, who sued to force the government to act on the issue, said they hope the animal's plight will be used by the Obama administration to leverage tighter restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions.

As with the polar bear, the government is seeking to sidestep that thorny proposition by not addressing threats outside the wolverine's immediate range.

But a special rule proposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service would allow Colorado's wildlife agency to reintroduce an experimental population of the animals that eventually could spill into neighboring portions of New Mexico and Wyoming.

Federal officials also would shut down wolverine trapping in Montana, the only one of the lower 48 states where the practice is still allowed.

In recent years, Montana wildlife officials have waged court battles against environmentalists who want to stop trapping. If Friday's proposal goes through after a 90-day public comment period, wolverine trapping would be banned.

Once found throughout the Rocky Mountains and in California's Sierra Nevada mountain range, wolverines were wiped out across most of the U.S. by the 1930s due to unregulated trapping and poisoning campaigns, said Bob Inman, a wolverine researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Society.

In the decades since, they have largely recovered in the Northern Rockies but not in other parts of their historical range.

While reintroducing the animals further south, in Colorado, might seem counterintuitive, Inman said the state's abundance of 14,000-foot mountains make it ideally suited as a refuge for the animals as warmer temperatures set in at lower elevations.

Only one wolverine currently inhabits the state, a male that wandered down several years ago from northern Wyoming. It now frequents areas in and around Rocky Mountain National Park.

Inman said the state has enough high-mountain territory to support as many as 100 of the animals. "That's like a 30 percent increase in their population size," he added.

Any reintroduction into Colorado would require approval from state wildlife commissioners and the Legislature, Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said.

Representatives of the state's ski and agriculture industries have previously raised concerns about the potential impacts of wolverines being brought back, but Hampton said it could take years to work out all the details.

Other areas where wolverines once roamed also could serve as future refuges, although there are no pending reintroduction plans beyond Colorado, officials said.

Those include portions of Utah, Oregon's Cascade Range, Wyoming's Big Horn Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas, said Shawn Sartorious, a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service based in Montana.

---

Online:

http://1.usa.gov/UJUwb0

News where, when and how you want it

Email Icon


Advertising