Wolverines to be Listed as Threatened?

With apologies for the long silence, here’s an article in the Missoulian, more or less officially confirming news that we’ve been expecting – wolverines will be listed as threatened later this month. The news comes as part of a district’s judge’s decision not to hear a case, scheduled for January 10th, about the Montana trapping season: “District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock ruled it made little sense to debate a trapping season that was soon to become moot.” More details are available in an article from the Great Falls Tribune, which makes clear that the judge signed an order ending the 2012-2013 trapping season, even without the hearing, and that Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks decided not to fight the decision. In another piece in the Helena Independent Record, however, FWP indicated that they do plan to contest the lawsuit, should it go forward in March or April of this year. If wolverines are listed, though, today’s decision should represent the permanent closure of Montana’s trapping season – except in the unlikely event that we can slow down the effects of climate change enough to protect the population, or in the equally unlikely event that science somehow determines that trapping is not a threat despite the risks of climate change. This would be scientifically tricky to uphold, though, since removal of reproductive females from the population has the potential to significantly disrupt source nodes within the metapopulation, especially when habitat is decreasing.

More about this soon; I’m in the middle of several wolverine related projects (naturally) and haven’t had much time to write.  Meanwhile, here are a few other articles that have appeared over the past month:

NRCC Executive Director Jason Wilmot weighs in on the upcoming decision in a Greenwire article. This, too, basically stated that a “threatened” status was recommended; I plead guilty to being too absorbed in hanging out with my family over the holidays to post.

The Billing’s Gazette profiles the WCS wolverine study and the work of Bob Inman. The descriptions of the rigors of wolverine field work are pretty accurate, so if you’re contemplating a career in wolverine biology, ponder these carefully. He also raises an important but generally neglected question: the status and distribution of wolverines in Wyoming. This could be critical for a fully interconnected Rocky Mountain population, particularly if wolverines ever make it to Colorado. I hope that the state of Wyoming takes note, and prioritizes a study immediately. Bob also raises the issue of the inherently transboundary and transjurisdictional nature of wolverine conservation, which I hope will provide us with a new model for conservation of widely-dispersed metapopulations.

Much further afield, here’s an update on the tour of Michigan’s last known wolverine, tracked by teacher Jeff Ford for several years until her death in 2009.

Finally, here’s an interesting piece from Smithsonian, looking at adaptive plasticity in tree frogs in Panama. What does this have to do with wolverines in the Rockies? Adaptive plasticity is the range of behavior available to a species in light of environmental variation – including changes in climate. Since we cannot, as a society, muster the will to do anything about emissions, the continued presence of wolverines in the Rockies may well depend on the species’ degree of adaptive plasticity. This is one of the most important aspects of the comparative work in Mongolia and the US, too.

So there it is, for now. Enjoy the good news – but remember that putting a species on the list is not the equivalent of actually conserving it, and that the challenge for wolverines (and for other species) will be moving from symbolic protection to actual management strategies in the years to come.

note: I originally posted this as “Wolverines to be Listed as Threatened,” statement, not question. I was reiterating the headline of the first article that my friend sent me; I don’t have independent confirmation of this, and on reflection, I shouldn’t have stated this as a fact. Although the decision is due out sometime soon, and although we have indications that they will be recommended for protections, I do not actually know that they will. Hopefully this hasn’t caused any confusion or bad feeling, and hopefully readers will forgive the lapse in the usually-rigorous standards on this blog. 

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