More Press Coverage for M56

Here’s another article about M56, Colorado’s lone (known) wolverine. Colorado papers seem to revisit this issue every few months, and this piece doesn’t contain much new information, although it does cite a definite date for the listing decision – January 18th, 2013. I’ve been way out of the Colorado loop and the listing loop since I went to Mongolia in July, so I don’t know if this is definite. Shawn Sartorius, who is in charge of the USFWS status review, also goes on record to say, “It does not look like wolverines are particularly sensitive to human activities.” This is good news for wolverines and for the ski industry. Bob Inman, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s wolverine biologist, emphasizes the need to see ski resorts as endangered by the same factors that might threaten wolverines, and suggests that resorts might serve as allies in wolverine education and conservation efforts. If a Colorado introduction does go forward, it’s good to contemplate the prospect of a conflict-free carnivore – an anomaly in the West, but one that we should celebrate.

The evolution of certitude about how many wolverines are in the Rockies is interesting to watch; when I first started hanging out with wolverine biologists, those biologists refused to give numbers to reporters, even though that was inevitably the first question the reporters asked. These days, the numbers are raining down like particularly confusing confetti. This year alone I’ve seen claims ranging from 25 (this reflects a conflation of effective population and total population; the former represents the number of breeding adults contributing to the gene pool) to 300. This article claims that 250 ‘survivors’ (actually, they are probably recolonizers following a 20th-century extirpation) are clustered in the northern US Rockies. Does anyone really know how many wolverines are out there? No. And even if we did, wolverine survival on the landscape is not purely a matter of numbers. As we move forward with conservation plans, I hope people can detach themselves from commitment to a number, and start to talk about demographics instead.

In any case, I hope that if a reintroduction does happen, it happens in time for M56 to become part of the effective population. I know that’s sentimental on my part, and it’s just as likely that he’ll get booted out of his territory by some younger, stronger male, but… poor guy, he’s been hanging out alone for the past four years. He needs some company.





3 thoughts on “More Press Coverage for M56

  1. I agree thaT M56 needs a gal-pal so does Buddy of California. Do you know of any group working to get such guys some girlfriends?

    • There has been talk of reintroduction in both California and Colorado. The CO department of wildlife is heading up efforts there, although any reintroduction effort anywhere in the US must await the upcoming listing decision, since that changes the legal status and regulations around reintroduction.

      The jury is still somewhat out on whether the Californian wolverine was a natural disperser, or a released captive. California may be a less urgent situation in terms of the robustness of the overall Lower 48 population, since there’s substantially less connectivity to other populations – as witnessed also by the historically different genetics of the Sierra wolverines, which suggest long-term isolation. California’s on the back burner at this point, I think, and since reintroductions are complicated, expensive, disrupt existing populations, and have a very low success rate, I think it’s for the best right now, unless you could prove that having gulos in California would increase the robustness of the Lower 48 population as a whole. (Having gulos in CO, if they do proceed with a reintroduction there, should meet this test of supporting the entire population…)

    • But I should add that if a male reaches a new area through natural dispersal, females should get there eventually too. Because of the way wolverine territoriality works, males tend to be at the vanguard of expansion, but I suspect that once female territories fill up elsewhere, girl gulos can travel just as widely as males. So we can hope that females eventually reach California on their own. The timeframe will just be longer.

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