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Friday, February 1, 2013 - Page updated at 11:30 p.m.

Threatened-species status sought for wolverines

By Lynda V. Mapes
Seattle Times staff reporter

Wolverines would be listed for protection as a threatened species in the Lower 48 states under a proposal announced Friday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The listing, if finalized, is not expected to affect recreation, including snowmobiling, or timber harvest. Trapping would be prohibited.

The proposal starts a public-review process by the agency, which will include opportunities for public comment. Any decision to list is at least a year away.

The proposed listing is a triumph for conservation organizations, including Defenders of Wildlife and Earthjustice, that battled in court for a decade to get federal protection for wolverines.

Gulo gulo are making a comeback in Washington, with scientists documenting new populations here since about the mid-1990s. But they remain rare.

Only about 300 wolverines survive in the western United States, including perhaps 25 in Washington. The animals live widely dispersed over some of Washington’s wildest country.

Scientists have confirmed resident populations in the North Cascades, and as far south as the Upper Icicle Creek drainage south of Highway 2 west of Leavenworth, Chelan County. Their historic home range stretches along the Cascade Crest from the Canadian border to Mount Rainier.

They also occur within the Northern Rockies of Montana, in Idaho, Wyoming and a small portion of Oregon within the Wallowa Range. Populations once existed in the Sierra Nevada of California and the southern Rocky Mountains in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico, but only two wolverines are thought to be in those locations today.

Wolverines once were treated as vermin because of their penchant for raiding trap lines. Poisoned, trapped and shot on sight, they were killed off in Washington by the 1930s. The animals recolonizing Washington today are the result of Canadian wolverines first visiting, then taking up residence in some of Washington’s high, wild country.

Much of the territory where wolverines live already is protected wilderness. However, they are threatened by climate change, which scientists predict will melt out up to 63 percent of their habitat in the United States over the next 100 years. Wolverines require deep, persistent snow cover at least into mid-May. The snow insulates and protects the dens where they bear and raise their young.

In the future, Washington is expected to remain a stronghold for wolverines in some of its highest, snowiest country.

David Wentz, science and conservation director with Conservation Northwest, wrote in a prepared statement, “Protection under the Endangered Species Act will help our wolverine population survive an uncertain future with a warming climate, shrinking snowpack and increasingly fragmented habitat.”

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or lmapes@seattletimes.com


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