WELC Blog: Will the wolverine survive?

Wolverines are truly impressive animals. Somewhat famously, one radio-tagged wolverine, “M3,” climbed 4,900 vertical feet to the peak of Mount Cleveland in Glacier National Park…in only 90 minutes and in February!

Embodying the free-willed, wild heart of the West, the wolverine—which resembles a small shaggy bear and weighs less than 40 pounds—is, sadly, at risk of extinction. While precise numbers don’t exist, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that less than 250-300 wolverines inhabit the contiguous United States, far fewer wolverines than are necessary to sustain this species’ long-term genetic viability.

Moreover, the wolverine depends on high-elevation landscapes with late spring snow cover (female wolverines den in late spring, building a network of tunnels to protect their young from prey) that are connected by protected areas that provide food, shelter, and security to the wolverine as it moves between core habitat. This core habitat is already fragmented and isolated, and connecting corridors remain under threat.

As if this weren’t enough, global warming caused by fossil fuel combustion is shrinking the wolverine’s habitat even further, eliminating the late-spring snow cover that is so essential to wolverine reproduction. By 2085, wolverines may lose 63-90% of their remaining habitat because of global warming.

What to do?

First, we’ve taken action to stop a primary threat to wolverines: trapping. Despite the fact that wolverines are at serious risk of extinction, the State of Montana still allows the recreational trapping of wolverines, a horrific practice that has caused havoc with wolverine populations, often killing pregnant females that are limited in their ability to range and forage for food and are thus attracted to baited traps. We therefore challenged the State of Montana, winning a temporary restraining order that we leveraged into a court-approved agreement with Montana that shuts down the 2013 trapping season.

Second, we’ve taken action to stop ill-advised logging and infrastructure projects that compromise wolverine habitat, like the Forest Service’s “Spotted Bear” logging project in the South Fork Flathead River corridor on Montana’s Flathead National Forest.

Third, we’re leading a coalition of 26 conservation groups that are calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the wolverine pursuant to the Endangered Species Act. We’re asking the Service to: (1) designate the wolverine as an endangered species; (2) forthrightly address non-climate stressors on the wolverine like trapping, motorized winter recreation, habitat loss from logging, and infrastructure development; and (3) designate critical habitat. 

Fourth, we’re taking action to speed our transition away from dirty fossil fuels to clean, carbon free energy. Put simply, if we don’t stop polluting our atmosphere, no amount of place-based conservation work will suffice, whether for wolverines or, for that matter, humanity.

We think that this combination of action gives this fierce, elusive animal that the fighting chance it deserves.

Blog Profile

Erik Schlenker-Goodrich

Erik was appointed Executive Director in 2012. He joined WELC as an attorney in 2003 and has worked to safeguard our climate from dirty fossil fuels, promote our transition to the efficient use of carbon free, renewable energy, and protect the American West’s rivers and wildlands. Before taking over the reins, Erik served as both the director of the Southwest office (Taos, N.M.) and of WELC's Climate & Energy Program. Prior to joining WELC, he worked for The Wilderness Society as an attorney on public lands issues. Erik is a graduate of Cornell University with a B.S. in Natural Resources, and earned his law degree and an Environmental and Natural Resources Law Certificate from the University of Oregon School of Law. Erik works from our Southwest Office, 575-751-0351 x 137.

BlogInfo Block

This blog explores inside information from WELC's smart, dedicated attorneys, scientists and policy experts who have committed their lives to defending the American West. Our experts take their unique knowledge, mix it with long hours of reflection in the saddle of a bicycle, hiking a long & winding trail, paddling a river, or skiing the mountains and share with you their insights and perspectives. We hope you enjoy the results!