From those of us who have worked with wolverines for many years, to those who have become fans of this intriguing animal over the past few months, 2010 has been a great year for the gulo world. The past twelve months have seen the publication of Doug Chadwick’s landmark book The Wolverine Way, the release of Gianna Savoie’s Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom, the decision that the wolverine is warranted for protection under the Endangered Species Act, and the announcement that Colorado is considering reintroduction. Summer of 2010 saw the launch of the first systematic study of the species in Mongolia, where next to nothing is known about the wolverine population. A series of wolverine events throughout the western US has offered a chance for people in the Rockies to learn more and to interact directly with the scientists and artists who are so committed to understanding and protecting this species. On a global level, the meetings in Cancun last month finally broke the deadlock on international agreements on climate change, so there’s a glimmer of hope that we might reach some resolutions on worldwide issues that affect wolverines.
The number of visitors to this blog, the number of reports of sightings, and wolverine coverage in the regional and national media have increased exponentially. Wolverines are finally on the radar – safe to say that they are better known and more popular at the end of 2010 than at any time in history. That’s a great thing for wolverines, and gratifying to the people who have worked with them over the years.
So was 2010 the Year of the Wolverine? I’d like to think that it wasn’t, because as exciting as it was, there’s more to come, and 2011 will see us wrestling with some of the really big issues that are critical to ensuring the wolverine’s future.
Funding for research is needed throughout the wolverine’s range, to determine things as simple and vital as reproductive rates, and as complicated as how wolverines respond to human recreational use of the landscape. Research projects are going forward in Montana and Idaho, and hopefully Wyoming as well. The Cascades Carnivore Project continues to monitor wolverines in the northwest. Work on the Mongolia Wolverine Project will continue in summer of 2011, as I interview more hunters in different regions of the country, and lay the groundwork for non-invasive genetic monitoring and a possible collaring operation. (If you’re inspired by end-of-the-year generosity, contributions to these projects can be made at The Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative, for the Wyoming, southern Montana, and Mongolia projects; or the Wolverine Foundation, for wolverine research in general.) The results of these projects will help us figure out how to conserve wolverines over the long term, so refining our research questions and figuring out how to fund the work will be essential.
The reintroduction plan in Colorado offers both the challenge and the opportunity to address some of the deep-rooted social and political issues surrounding carnivore conservation in the West – as a society, we have the chance to make this into an example of species conservation that works biologically and socially, if all sides are careful and respectful and contextual as we go forward.
A continuing series of wolverine events in the Rockies will allow the chance not only for individuals to learn more about the species, but to get involved with citizen science efforts in high altitude habitat. Check back here in January for a schedule of events.
We still have two functional transmitters on wolverines in southern Montana – our young couple, F3 and M57. Have they gotten around to making the commitment to raising a family? I hope so, because F3 is tough and inspiring, and M57’s mysterious past roaming the flats of Idaho, and the fact that the loss of two toes seems to have had no effect on him, mean that they would have great kits. Come on, guys. Have some babies. We’ll be keeping track of them to find out if they actually do.
So thank you to everyone for your support and interest in 2010, and I’m looking forward to seeing what 2011 holds for wolverines. Happy New Year!