Wolverines Breeding in North Cascades

Last month, the North Cascades wolverine project confirmed – after six years of diligent work – that wolverines are breeding in the region. Mallory and Xena, two of the project’s female wolverines, denned this year. The two females localized, researchers noted the localization via telemetry, and then flew in to set camera traps. Xena was recorded with a kit in her mouth, and they expect similar confirmation soon for Mallory. Rocky, the mate that the two females share, has been visiting both dens.

The article mentions natal and maternal dens. A natal den is the den in which a wolverine gives birth. She generally moves the kits to a den at a higher elevation after several weeks. A wolverine may have multiples maternal dens, generally close to each other, before moving the kits to a series of rendezvous sites later in the summer. We’re not sure what prompts a female to move from a natal to a maternal den, or from one maternal den to another. Disturbance could account for some movements, but more likely the shifts in quarters usually have to do with snow melt, kit growth and weaning, and the amount of refuse accumulating in the den.

The fact that it took the North Cascades project six years to confirm that their wolverines are actually resident – that is, a reproducing population – is noteworthy. It took the Absaroka-Beartooth Project six years to document a reproduction within the project area as well. This might serve as a useful guideline in conceptualizing the timelines for wolverine projects, especially in marginal areas or areas at the edges of known distribution.

In other news, an article about the Colorado wolverine reintroduction plans appeared last week in theSummit County Citizens Voice. The article addresses the fact that a reintroduction – tentatively proposed several years ago – is on hold. I’m flattered that the article provides a link to my blog, but I also want to clarify a point made in the article. The reporter states:

“A tentative state plan to reintroduce the mountaineering omnivores is on hold at least until the federal government decides whether to list the species as threatened or endangered. Opposition from the ski industry and ranchers played a key role in putting the brakes on the proposed restoration.”

The ski industry and ranchers have, as I understand it, voiced some concerns, but they are not the major reason for the delay. Anyone involved in reintroduction plans for an ESA candidate species would be far wiser to step back until the species’ status had been determined, since an ESA listing would create very different conditions and requirements than would occur under a non-listing scenario. With a definite date set for a final listing decision (by the end of 2013), it makes far more sense to wait for that decision than to try to proceed. The delay isn’t due to anyone’s recalcitrance, and given the likely logistical complexities of a reintroduction, wolverines wouldn’t be on the ground before that date even without a necessary wait for the ESA decision.

So far, in my admittedly limited exposure to the plans for Colorado, I’ve been impressed by how enthusiastic everyone seems. There are currently no good guys and no bad guys, just people voicing legitimate concerns amidst the uncertainty of the listing situation. If wolverine reintroduction in Colorado does go forward, I hope that the conservation advocacy community will take the opportunity to forge a process that is as conflict-free as possible. A key component of this process will involve taking a step back from “easy” conservation narratives that create division and point fingers at groups that will then – logically – become angered and more polarized. Wolverines really aren’t a threat to any special interest group, they have a broad appeal, their impact on the ski industry is likely to be minimal since a tiny (c. 1%) proportion of denning habitat is located within ski areas, and they don’t kill livestock except in very exceptional circumstances. With the right messaging, everyone should support wolverine conservation. A Colorado reintroduction should be about wolverines, not about honing identity-based conflicts that have been inherent in other wildlife conservation situations in the West.

That said, it’s always good to see gulos getting coverage. I don’t want to be too harsh, and I appreciate the attention to wolverines.

Speaking of attention to wolverines, the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff, Alberta, is hosting an art exhibition featuring species and landscapes found along the Yellowstone-to-Yukon corridor. Wolverines and pikas are among the animals making an appearance. It’s great to see art and conservation intersecting in this way. The show runs from June to November of 2012.

Also in the wolverine media world, a special on the Michigan wolverine will air on ABC on Saturday, May 26th- 1:00-1:30 pm, Sunday, May 27th, 6:30-7:00 am, and Monday, May 28th, 2:05-2:35am. This is probably only available in Michigan, but hopefully the rest of us will be able to see it online.

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