How to Help Wolverines

Whenever PBS airs its wolverine documentary, visits to this site surge, many of them involving inquiries about how to help wolverines. I don’t know if something similar will happen in the wake of the NatGeo Wild episode, but in anticipation – because I’ll be offline for the next few days, down in M56’s territory in Colorado – I’m going to revisit an original post that I wrote to address the question, “How can I help wolverines?”

First of all, keep learning about the species. The more you know, the better for wolverines. The best source of wolverine information remains The Wolverine Foundation, which is run by a coalition of wolverine researchers, representing many projects in the US and beyond. Some past and on-going projects worth looking into include the Glacier National Park study (.pdf), the Absaroka-Beartooth Project, the SE Alaska Project, the Central Idaho Wolverine and Winter Recreation Research Study (.pdf), the Wallowa-Whitman survey in Oregon, the Greater Yellowstone wolverine project of the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Swedish wolverine study. The PBS documentary Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom provides a great introduction to wolverine research and conservation in the US. Doug Chadwick’s book The Wolverine Way is an engaging, in-depth look at the Glacier Park project. For the truly committed, Jeff Copeland’s snow model paper offers the scientific basis for climate change threats to wolverines, and a good entry-point to the scientific literature.

Second, do not try to raise a wolverine as a pet. Wildlife rehabilitation and ambassador animals play an important role in conservation, but wolverines are not domestic animals and most people don’t have the resources to give one the kind of life it deserves and needs. If you want to adopt a wolverine, consider doing so by making a donation to a research project that monitors wolverines in the wild. Wolverine research projects are able to keep close track of each instrumented animal, and even via GPS collar, the unique personality of individual wolverines shines through. We also do a great job of keeping our donors informed about what “their” wolverines are up to, so it’s a nice way to have all the fun and adventure of having a wolverine in your life, without chewed-up furniture and potential puncture wounds.

Third, the biggest long-term needs for wolverine conservation are better data and a well-informed constituency. As of December 2010, the wolverine was listed as “warranted but precluded” under the Endangered Species Act. This means that government recognizes that wolverines face substantial threats, but doesn’t currently have the resources to list the species. In its decision, the US Fish and Wildlife Service names climate change as the biggest threat facing wolverines in the Lower 48. Unfortunately,  understanding how wolverines are responding – let alone what the best conservation options are – is difficult.  Thanks to the dedicated efforts of researchers involved with the studies listed above, we know a lot more now than we did a decade ago. Some of the most basic questions, however, remain unanswered. Among them: How do female wolverines select den sites? How do wolverines travel across landscapes between mountain ranges? Despite strong evidence that female wolverines den in deep spring snow, is it possible for some wolverines to reproduce in areas with less snow? What are the physiological mechanisms that make wolverines so dependent on cold conditions, not to mention such incredible athletes? And the list goes on. All of these questions are relevant to figuring out how we might  protect wolverines over the long term.

Wolverine research is expensive, time-consuming, and not for the faint of heart. The stories I’ve heard from wolverine researchers – told quietly, humbly, without fanfare – put the most dramatic television renderings of encounters with (captive) wild animals to shame. These men and women are superheroes, physically and intellectually, and they’ve been working for years in the most extreme conditions, under the radar, out of commitment to wolverines and science. As we move into an era when wolverines are becoming more visible, and perhaps even a symbol of a new era of conservation in the West, the need for an educated constituency is critical. I emphasize the word “educated,” out of respect for the hard work that these scientists have done to help us understand the species and its needs. If you want to support wolverine conservation, do it right. Understand that this isn’t a simple story of immediate crisis which can be fixed by listing wolverines and getting a single group of people to stop doing something destructive. Wolverines face systemic issues that are going to require a new vision extending far beyond just the species. Protect wolverines and their ecosystem by riding your bike instead of driving your car, by supporting open-space initiatives that keep development at a minimum, by moderating your own desires for things that increase your environmental footprint. Support civil political discourse and inclusive decision-making, and support that civility and inclusivity in wider society as well, so that we have a process that protects wolverines without creating societal strife. In election years, vote the environment and let your politicians know that’s what you’re doing. If you belong to a faith group, encourage them to understand that whatever was created by the Divine is a work of holy art and should be protected as such – even a scrappy critter like a wolverine. Perhaps more than any of the charismatic species that have come into the conservation spotlight before, wolverines represent a need to think about the global ecosystem and the entire system of human thought and action that surround environmental decision making. Embrace the complexity and get creative.

If you’re really inspired by wolverines and wolverine research, support research financially by making a donation to one of the research projects. A quick breakdown of costs: $25 buys supplies for non-invasive DNA sampling. $60 analyzes a DNA sample. $150 buys immobilization drugs. $250 covers a flight to determine whether a female is denning. $3000 buys a GPS collar. Any amount – whether it’s $5 or $5000 – shows an interest in and commitment to the species, and we appreciate it. You can channel a donation to wolverine conservation in general, or to a specific project of interest, through the Wolverine Foundation.

If you can’t make a financial contribution (and trust me, I understand if you can’t….wolverine research pays big in amazing experiences, minimally in dollars, so I’m in the same boat) help out by becoming a citizen scientist if you live in wolverine territory. If you’re a backcountry skier, a snowmobiler, a hunter, a backpacker, a climber, or anyone else who spends time in the high country, let us know if you see a wolverine or tracks. You can find a pocket-sized card to download and take on your next trip here. Wild Things Unlimited, an NGO in Montana, trains volunteers to track wolverines and lynx, and several projects around the West look for winter-spring volunteers for field crews. Get in touch with me if you want more information about current opportunities, or if you have any questions about wolverines in general.

Thanks to everyone for your support of an amazing species!

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6 thoughts on “How to Help Wolverines

  1. Another great post, Rebecca. I appreciate that you address the true complexity of the state of wolverine conservation. I would like to add to the bit on volunteering- Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation and Wild Things Unlimited just made the New York Times front page for their recent workshop for tracking wolverines. It provides some excellent insight to what one can expect if they feel compelled to volunteer. Here’s the link:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/12/us/matching-adventurers-with-scientists.html?_r=1&hp

  2. Love reading your posts. Thanks for the information on how to become more involved… Something we should all do. Invite us for coffee sometime & keep up the hard work.

    Cheers-

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