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
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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Official Pleased With Ebola Containment Measure

Official says three-day sensitization effort will help reduce infection rate of Ebola disease nationwide More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As the tumult in the Middle East distracts Obama, shifting American focus eastward appears threatened 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.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid