Today, the Wildlife Conservation Society announced that they have tracked a wolverine into Colorado, marking the first time the animal has been found in the state since 1919. The wolverine, named M56, is a young male that was captured in April in Grand Teton National Park. Scientists have been tracking him with a radio collar for the last 2 months as he’s traveled roughly 500 miles.
The sighting comes at an opportune time for the wolverine, as USFWS is reconsidering its ESA status as part of a settlement stemming from a 2008 lawsuit. The suit was filed challenging the agency’s decision not to extend Endangered Species Act protections to wolverines after a Freedom of Information Act request uncovered documents that supported listing. (The suit was filed by Earthjustice, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Friends of the Clearwater, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Idaho Conservation League, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Wyoming Outdoor Council.) The documents suggest that biologists within the agency concluded that protection for wolverines was warranted, but were overruled by political appointees within the Bush administration seeking to prevent a second species receiving ESA protection due to climate change. (The polar bear was the first species listed due to the effects of global warming).
The wolverine occupies Arctic and Arctic-like habitat at higher elevations and is dependent upon snow for its survival, making it particularly at risk of further habitat loss due to climate change. Wolverines rely on persistent spring snowpack for their dens, however scientific data indicate a chronic, earlier spring snowmelt in many parts of its range. The settlement calls for FWS to consider the projected effects of climate change on the wolverine’s habitat, including the Rocky Mountains and the North Cascades.
The settlement calls for a new status determination by December 2010. There are currently thought to be less than 500 wolverines in the continental US.
To learn more about the ways species are at risk due to climate change and what can be done to protect them, please visit the Endangered Species Coalition website.