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

    Vietnam Urges US to Lift Lethal Weapons Ban Amid S. China Sea Tensions

    US president’s upcoming visit to Vietnam underscores strength of relationship, and lifting embargo would reflect that trust, ambassador says

    Are US Schools Turning a Blind Eye to Radical Qatari Preachers?

    Parade of radical Islamist clerics using mosque at Qatar’s Education City draws mounting criticism for American universities that maintain satellite branches there

    South Pole Diary: In Round-the-clock Darkness, Radiant Moon Shines Like the Sun

    You hear more and see more when the moon first comes out; it’s your senses in overdrive, tuning into a new world.

    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.
    Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroadi
    X
    May 02, 2016 1:36 PM
    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora