Wolverines Under Consideration For Endangered Species Status

Jan 10, 2013

Should wolverines be listed as an endangered species? That will be the question before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on January 18th. This hardy member of the weasel family is actually making a comeback in the U.S., but perhaps not for long. Ashley Ahearn reports for EarthFix.

A wolverine seen on Snoqualmie Pass east of Seattle.
Credit Photo by Jeffrey C. Lewis / Wikimedia Commons

Wolverines weigh about 30 pounds and look sort of like miniature black bears with bushy tails.

In the early part of the 20th century predator poisoning campaigns and habitat degradation reduced their numbers to near extinction. But in the past 50 years or so, wolverines have come back especially in cold snowy sections of the rocky mountain west and parts of Oregon and Washington.

Scientists believe there are between 250 and 500 wolverines in the U.S. now. That may not seem like a lot, but it’s a significant improvement.

Sartorius: “This is a case, one of the few cases where things are looking pretty rosy right now but the future scenario is one that doesn’t look good.”

Shawn Sartorius is the lead wolverine biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Wolverines tend to stick to high elevations where snow piles thick and stays late into the spring. They need the snow to make their dens.

That’s why climate change poses a major threat to these animals, even though the population is growing now.

Warming temperatures are predicted to shrink the available habitat for wolverines in the future. Sartorius says that if they are listed as threatened or endangered that could mean more funding for monitoring and reintroduction of the species.

Sartorius: “We think that if wolverines can be reestablished in as many places as possible that will give them the best chance to hold on once the significant effects of climate change occur.”

Wolverines are mainly scavengers that stick to extremely harsh territory so they don’t pose a problem for livestock.

The Fish and Wildlife Service will submit their recommendation on January 18th. It could then take up to a year for the wolverine to be officially declared “endangered”.

Copyright 2013 Northwest Public Radio