News / USA

Wolverines Stage a Comeback

But global warming threatens the long-term survival of the species

This remote camera photo of a wolverine was taken in the Okanogan National Forest  in Winthrop, Washington.
This remote camera photo of a wolverine was taken in the Okanogan National Forest in Winthrop, Washington.

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +
Tom Banse

One of the rarest mammals in North America is staging a comeback in the mainland United States. Wildlife biologists have tracked wolverines on mountainsides where they haven’t been seen in many decades. But several new studies suggest the recovery could be short-lived if the animals’ mountain snowline habitat continues to retreat due to global warming.

If you’re willing to settle for a mascot, the legendary wolverine is easy to find in the USA. It’s the namesake of countless high schools, a bunch of colleges and several American university sports teams. But if you want to see an actual wolverine in the wild, good luck. Despite the fact that the brown, shaggy carnivores are among the largest members of the weasel family and reach weights up to 15 kilograms, these stocky scavengers are extremely elusive. The biologists who study them rely on radio tracking technology and aircraft or snowmobiles to improve the odds of finding their quarry.

John Rohrer, a district biologist for the Okanagan-Wenatchee National Forest, also uses dead deer heads to lure elusive wolverines. "They’re in this winter environment that we think is so harsh and so inhospitable, and they’re loving it."

A remote camera photo of a wolverine attracted by a lure set up by biologists in the Okanogan National Forest.
A remote camera photo of a wolverine attracted by a lure set up by biologists in the Okanogan National Forest.

Rohrer, Scott Fitkin and company have set up 11 live capture traps in the high country east of the Cascade Crest. Both men have worked with all sorts of interesting critters, but hold a special reverence for the wolverine.

"These are the most charismatic animals I’ve worked with over 20 years in my career," says Fitkin. "They have a lot of personality. They’re certainly individuals. Each one is a little different in the way they react to us. They’re a very beautiful animal. Everything about them is just interesting."

They’re also really rare. Trapping and deliberate poisoning more or less wiped out the wolverine from the contiguous United States. But now wolverines have moved down from Canada to reoccupy their historic ranges.

This is the sixth season Rohrer and Fitkin have pursued the elusive scavengers. Captures are rare. Fitkin videotaped the most recent one of a wolverine they named Rocky.

When the field crew catches a wolverine, they attach a GPS tracking collar and set the animal free again. Study leader Keith Aubry can monitor the signals from his desk at the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station in Olympia.

Aubry says the wolverine’s rebound appears fragile. "The populations are not dense and they’re not reproducing rapidly. So it’s a precarious situation."

Wildlife biologists John Rohrer and Scott Fitkin check a wolverine trap in Washington’s North Cascades.
Wildlife biologists John Rohrer and Scott Fitkin check a wolverine trap in Washington’s North Cascades.

Aubry, who is working on a science journal paper on the topic, believes global warming poses the biggest threat to wolverines because the animals need long-lasting snow cover to dig the snow caves in which they give birth.

"The denning period, weaning, occurs about in mid-May," he says. "They need snow cover that persists to mid-May to provide these dens for the kids. If snow starts melting early, the den could start collapsing."

The Forest Service is funding a parallel study in central Idaho. But in Idaho, the wolverines aren’t the only ones being tracked. The research team led by biologist Kim Heinemeyer is asking snowmobilers and backcountry skiers to voluntarily carry GPS tracking units, too. That lets Heinemeyer see whether human recreation affects the wolverines.

"It’s a very complicated question that we’re trying to answer," says Heinemeyer. "While we have resident animals in the landscape and some of them have successfully denned we believe, we don’t know the potentially more subtle interactions that may happen between winter recreation and wolverines."

In December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service classified wolverines as a candidate for endangered species protection. This was in response to several conservation groups who petitioned the service to have the wolverine listed as threatened or endangered. The federal agency agreed with the petitioners that climate change poses a long-term threat to the animal’s survival in the contiguous U.S. But officials say full endangered species protection for the wolverine is "precluded" right now by the need to direct resources to higher-priority cases.

You May Like

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

Parliament approves legislation to bolster powers of intelligence service, which government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats Turkey faces More

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Face of American Farmer is Changingi
X
Mike Osborne
April 18, 2014
The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid