State wildlife officials are holding early discussions on the feasibility of a wolverine restoration program; Nov. 14 PBS program highlights wolverine conservation — see a trailer here
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado wildlife biologists are in the early stages of determining whether it’s possible to restore a wolverine population in the state, and there have already been some preliminary talks with stakeholder groups to get some feedback.
“This summer, the wildlife commission gave permission to talk about what a wolverine reintroduction might look like,” said Theo Stein, director of external affairs for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
The discussions are based on a 1990s study that looked at lynx and wolverines. At the time, the agency decided to move ahead with a lynx recovery program and set aside the question of wolverines for a while, Stein explained. With the lynx program shifting gears into a more passive monitoring phase, Stein said the time could be ripe to bring another native carnivore back to the Colorado Rockies.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently studying wolverines to determine whether they should be listed as threatened or endangered. Colorado has a big chunk of suitable habitat for wolverines. If they were to be listed, it’s possible that some of the habitat in the state could be included in a critical habitat designation.
As with lynx recovery, a state-led plan could give Colorado more options in collaborating with the federal government on a long-term recovery plan, Stein explained.
At this point, it’s not just a hypothetical question. In May 2009, a radio-collared wolverine wandered all the way from Yellowstone to Colorado and has been criss-crossing the state ever since, from Rocky Mountain National Park all the way to the Sawatch Range near Leadville.
Wolverines are the largest members of the weasel (Mustelidae) family, which includes otters, mink, badges, polecats and weasels. In this group, wolverines are kings of the alpine and subarctic boreal zones, thriving in some of the most rugged terrain on the planet.
“They seek out avalanche chutes,” said Stein, describing how the carnivorous mammals favor the steepest mountain chutes and talus slopes for denning.
Adult wolverines weigh between 17 and 40 pounds and resemble small bears with bushy tails. They have broad, rounded heads, rounded ears and small eyes and each foot has five toes with curved, semi-retractible claws used for climbing and digging, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.
The powerful animals can crack open bones as big as elk femurs to get at the marrow, and there are reports of wolverines ferociously trying to drive much bigger bears away from their kills.
The Center for Native Ecosystems says that, because of their high elevation, Colorado’s Rocky Mountains will likely provide an important refuge for the cold-loving wolverine in the face of a warming climate and reduced snowpack throughout the West.
The Defenders of Wildlife maintains a web page with wolverine information here.
Filed under: biodiversity, Colorado Division of Wildlife, endangered species, Environment, Summit County Colorado, wildlife Tagged: | biodiversity, Colorado Division of Wildlife, conservation, endangered species, Summit County Colorado, Summit County News, wildife, wolverines