Elusive Wolverines Closer to New Federal Protection

Series Producer Marsha Walton shares some information on wolverines, as seen on episode 202 of This American Land.

The wolverine, the largest land-dwelling species in the mustelid family, is famous for its daring and tenacity. Learn more at WCS. Photo by BILL MENG/WCS

Our season two, episode two story on wolverines introduced a lot of viewers to a scrappy, mysterious, tough-as-nails mammal that few of us will ever see in the wild.  

Producer-photographer William Campbell spent some cold, snowy days with Wildlife Conservation Society biologist Bob Inman and his team. They have been tracking wolverines in the greater Yellowstone region for more than a decade. 

“Some of the things that we have learned that they do just kind of blow your mind,” said Inman. “The terrain that they live in, the way they can travel across snow. Their home ranges are gigantic– Nearly 500 square miles for an adult male. That’s a vast area for a 30 pound animal,” he said.   

On February 1, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing wolverines as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in the lower 48 states.  Lawsuits by The Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and several other conservation groups led to the proposal. 

If made final, the wolverine will join polar bears and a couple of species of coral as animals gaining protection because of the impacts of global climate change. More often, animals and plants are listed because of threats like predators or habitat destruction.

Wolverines need heavy spring snowpack for successful breeding. Female wolverines use birthing dens that they create in deep snow, providing protection from the elements for their newborns. 

Climate modeling shows that the wolverine’s habitat will be greatly reduced in coming years because of warming temperatures. 

As part of the Fish and Wildlife proposal, experimental populations of wolverines could be introduced into the southern Rockies. 

Learn more about the wolverine:

https://www.wcs.org/our-work/species/wolverines

William Campbell and executive producer Gary Strieker captured the fragile future of this tenacious animal in our story: 

“The wolverine is a barometer of the health of the high mountains.  What happens in the icebound watershed above the forests and valleys of the arid west is crucial to the wolverine’s survival, and the survival of other, more common species, including our own.”

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