Jeff Copeland will speak this Tuesday, April 12th, in Couer D’Alene, Idaho, about his research. The talk is sponsored by Audubon and begins at 7pm in the auditorium of the Lutheran church. An article on the upcoming talk and Copeland’s research can be found at the Spokesman-Review. (I, of course, am very excited to see that Mongolia made it onto the poster!)
A related article appeared in the same issue, about the possible impacts of wolverine sightings in the area where a snowcat ski company has been operating for the past few years. The young couple who own the company claim that they were assured that wolverine presence in the area wouldn’t be a problem for their permit when they bought the company in 2009, but the permit has since been revoked because of wolverine sightings. Although they are appealing the decision, they are unlikely to win.
This is a difficult topic. I’m sympathetic to people (especially people my age….) who have invested their time and money in pursuing a business that offers opportunities to get outside, and it’s terrible that they stand to lose that investment. They asked the right questions before they started. The assurances about wolverines not interfering with the permit were probably well-meant and may have been true at the time, but management has to change as our knowledge about a given situation changes. One of the more telling sentences in the article states: “Considerable confusion persists among land managers on interpreting rules regarding wolverines, which have been considered but not yet accepted for Endangered Species protections…” This is true: wolverines are a unique case right now, leaving us with a situation that is unfortunate for everyone – for business owners trying to make a living, for wolverine researchers trying to find funding to answer vital questions, for managers who might want the best for both wildlife and the human community but who can’t give assurances about the future of either, and, most importantly, for the wolverines themselves, who are facing down odds that they can’t comprehend, and which they can only meet with their indefatigable attitude….which, for the first time in their history as a species, may not be enough.
Land managers are taking a proactive, precautionary stance on trying to protect the species, and wolverines need that. The community of wolverine-interested people needs to be cautious, however, about rallying against back-country recreation. Endangered species protection in the Western US is overwhelmingly contentious. If you don’t live out here, it’s hard to grasp how deeply people’s identities – on both sides – play into the question of what we do about our wildlife. There are people who are primed to get riled about “federal interference” in their lives, and there are people who will passionately defend their right to speak “for” the species. The future of wolverines does not need to become a battlefield in this on-going war. Wolverines aren’t symbols of any political battle, and they shouldn’t become one. They’re outstanding and inspiring in a way that should reach anyone who loves being outdoors, whether on a snowmobile, a snowcat, or a pair of skis, whether as a hunter, a backpacker, or an artist. We’re all invested in the future of these places and the species they contain.
The situation in Silver Valley points most urgently to the need for more research to answer these questions in a way that leaves business-people less vulnerable, and managers more certain in their decisions and assurances. We need to figure out how females select denning habitat, to what extent they are disturbed by winter recreation, and what the implications are for management. Let’s get those questions answered, so that we know what we’re dealing with and what’s best for the future of the species and the people who use the habitat.