Happy New Year!
Here in Jackson, we’re hoping to make 2010 a Year of the Wolverine. With funding for our citizen science project, we’re putting together a website and a backcountry wolverine track ID card to encourage reporting of wolverine sightings in the Tetons. We already have two talks scheduled here, and as I was putting up posters this afternoon, I was encouraged by the way everyone’s eyes lit up when they saw the picture of the wolverine. PBS Nature plans the release of a documentary on wolverines in March; I accompanied Absaroka-Beartooth field director Jason Wilmot and cameraman Bill Campbell on a test filming expedition for this documentary in 2008. Although neither Jason nor I appear in the film (thankfully, for my part), Jason is the voice of the preview and we hope to host a couple of events on wildlife films in general and on the making of this film in particular. Also on the media front, The Wolverine Foundation website will be receiving a makeover sometime this year. We’re hoping to raise the profile of this fascinating animal without generating the kind of self-righteous, rectitude-based narratives that have plagued wolf and bear conservation efforts.
The wolverine listing decision of 2008, in which wolverines were deemed not warranted for protection under the Endangered Species Act, is due to be reconsidered this year after a lawsuit by a number of environmental advocacy organizations. If the wolverine receives protection, it will probably join the polar bear as a species listed due in part to its vulnerability to climate change; since wolverines require deep spring snowpack to den, it’s a logical step to consider climate change a threat . Unfortunately, when the polar bear was listed the Bush administration issued a special rule stating that conservation actions can only be taken within the animal’s habitat. This means that even though an animal might be listed due in part or primarily because of the risks of climate change, the ESA can not be used to force legislation on climate change mitigation measures on a larger scale. So we might, for example, be threatening the polar bear or the wolverine through emissions, but even though we know this, we can’t use the ESA to push action on regulating emissions. Effectively, this conundrum has pulled the teeth out of the ESA in the face of a critical conservation problem. In the 20th century, the age of pesticides, development, and resource extraction as the primary environmental threats, the ESA was adequate to protect species. In the 21st century, where the conservation challenges are systemic, global, and threaten multiple ecosystems at once, we may have to rethink our approach. Perhaps 2010 will mark the beginning of a decade in which we are pushed to a new level of understanding of what will be asked of us to ensure the survival of high altitude, arctic, and boreal systems and the species that inhabit them.
On a more basic level, as of January 6th, the wolverine fur trapping season has been closed in two of Montana’s three trapping regions. In region 1, which has a quota of three animals, two animals were taken and the season closed; I’m assuming that this is because at least one of those animals was female, fulfilling a subquota that automatically shuts the season. Region 2, with a quota of one wolverine, was closed when a wolverine was taken. Region 3 is still open – this is the region in which two of our research animals, F3 and the Menan Male, live. I still break out in a cold sweat when I think about those animals in danger. Again, I recognize the importance of hunting and trapping to Western culture, but in this case the survival of the species takes priority.
The research project’s live traps reopened on January 6th after a holiday hiatus. Our field kit is ready to go, several bulky boxes occupying a substantial chunk of floor space in the office. When and if an animal goes into one of the traps, we’ll head up to participate in the collaring operation.
On New Year’s Eve, a sedate occasion which I spent in Ennis, Montana, with several friends, I had a dream (perhaps champagne-induced) that we discovered three wolverine dens. In the dream, we scrabbled down through the snow, digging out the kits, which were still half-white. The kits were small, but fierce, and the one I held twisted in my hands and latched onto my jacket and ran up to perch on my shoulder. There, instead of biting me, it balanced and, in the way of dream-creatures, spoke to me in a language that I couldn’t identify but nevertheless understood. On waking, I couldn’t remember what it had told me, but I maintain a sense of optimism. I hope that this year will hold dens, and kits, and perhaps the dream is a sign.
On the other hand, the dream also featured a swimming chicken, so who knows?