Doug's Blog

Rants from a renegade naturalist

A Death Sentence for Wolverines in the Northern Rockies

Wolverine-walking-in-snow


A witless remark by regional director Noreen Walsh of the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service may have sealed the doom of our wolverine population south of Canada. The specious crack, buried in an obfuscated and recently leaked memo by the Rocky Mountain Region director of the FWS, denies climate change models and claims that global warming predictions of reduced snowfall are merely “speculative.” This bureaucratic ignorance overrules prior recommendations of government researchers to list wolverines south of the border as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. These scientists, the 17-page letter says, have been ordered to reverse their own conclusions. A final announcement is due from agency Director Dan Ashe on August 4, 2014.

This careless political statement also reveals the heart of the flawed relationship between American environmentalists and the Obama administration: the urban-based Obama White House remains unresponsive when it comes to the rights and welfare of iconic animals like grizzly bears, bison, wolves or wolverines and, secondly, the Federal Wildlife Service remains in large part a bureaucracy left over from the Bush administration, which twice denied protection for the wolverine and has failed to confront the considerable and urgent threats presented by global warming.

This simple inaccuracy by a single high level Obama bureaucrat could put wolverines in the Northern Rockies on a cattle train to extinction.

What are the facts about wolverine critical habitat and survival?  Snowfall is indeed the key to wolverine survival.

The most credible scientific data on wolverine behavior documents an absolute habitat dependence on “persistent spring snow habitat.” A study of 562 wolverine denning sites demonstrated that wolverines denned in areas of spring snow 100 percent of the time. Persistent spring snow habitat has been defined as the snow that lingers from April 24 to May 15, a period that encompasses the end of the wolverine’s denning period. This data comes from satellite images and telemetry sites. During summers, 95 percent of telemetry locations of wolverines during summertime were in areas of persistent snow and 86 percent of winter locations also fell in these habitats. This study (Copeland, 2010) records satellite photographs from 2000 to 2006. The proxy of persistent spring snow for critical wolverine habitat is as close to a perfect wildlife management indicator that we have for any large mammal in the Continental United States. Snow is what wolverines need to survive.

Climate warming can be charted as a long term rising trend with variation. The winter temperatures where wolverines live here in Montana have been on the rise since 2002. But there are bumps in the straight-line graph. For example, in October 2009, a cold snap caused a temporary hiatus in the mountain pine beetle epidemic in whitebark pine forests; that lethal outbreak resumed in spring of 2013. During the winter of 2013-2014, snowfall was heavier than average. This anomaly may be what spurred Regional Director Wash to consider global warming, and resultant decreased snowfall, “speculative.”

Here’s the nub: Does anyone think global warming is waning or going away in the near or distant future? The polar caps are melting at a frightening rate. The U S Navy predicts summer Arctic sea ice will be gone by 2016. Up in the Yukon, along the Beaufort Sea, he permafrost is breaking up along coasts and riverbanks; that crumbling, eroding permafrost is belching huge gasps of methane. In the Amazon, warming of 2 degrees C, which we are rapidly approaching, would cause a 20-40% collapse of the rainforest, irreversible damage, which would significantly amplify worldwide warming.

The highest density of wolverines left south of Canada is in Glacier National Park.  The well-studied glaciers, for which the park was named, occur when more snow dumps on the mountains in winter than melts during summer—accumulation exceeds ablation. Today, the opposite is happening; researchers now predict the park’s glaciers will disappear by 2020. This is not “speculative” science. The glaciers are melting because snowfall is decreasing and temperatures are rising--bad news for wolverines.

On July 2, 2014, the National Park Service released a comprehensive climate warming report in the journal PloS ONE. Global warming is happening in 235 of the 289 parks they studies. In northeastern Yellowstone, snowpack has declined 22% since 1975. Apparently, Regional Director Wash has not read that study either.

The wolverine is indeed the Northern Rockies polar bear.  As the polar bear drifts towards extinction because of melting polar ice, so will wolverine populations disappear as warming weather shrinks our Rocky Mountain snowpack. The wolverine’s only chance is total protection under our Endangered Species Act. And that’s merely a chance: None of us on this mysterious blue planet will escape the affliction we call global warming.

Please tell the USFWS to reverse this deadly decision:

Director, Dan Ashe: Telephone 202-208-4717, Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Address: U.5. Fish & Wildlife Service, 1849 C. Street, NW, ROOM 3331 Washington, DC 20240

Read the USFWS wolverine memo.

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Save the the Wolverine: Montana's Polar Bear

These huge weasels are on my mind as this is the season they undulate over the spring snow pack looking to get laid. Bushwhack out of Many Glacier if you want to see one; there's only about 250 left south of Canada.

People who have spent a great deal of time with grizzly bears in the wild sometimes think they glimpse a flash of recognition, a sentience, in the eye of a wild bear, that some understanding passes between them. I have been guilty of such impressions—or illusions. For those of us who have been lucky enough to catch sight of a wolverine close up, the thought of any human brotherhood with that totally feral face never comes up. This is a creature too wild; the gigantic Mustelidae lives far beyond our wildest anthropomorphic dream.

May 6 was the deadline for comments to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for listing the wolverine in the lower 48 under the ESA. I posted of course, though I am deeply skeptical of this agency's cognitive flexibility--pissing in the wind awaiting the caddis hatch. The "little bear" is totally dependent on lingering spring snow, which will shrink back each year from the fickle ferocity of global warming.

The most credible scientific data on wolverines documents an absolute habitat dependence on “persistent spring snow habitat.” A study of 562 wolverine denning sites in Fennoscandia (like Sibelius caught with his pants down) and North America demonstrates that wolverines denned in areas of spring snow 100 percent of the time—all of the time. Persistent spring snow habitat has been defined as the snow that lingers from April 24 to May 15, a period that encompasses the end of the wolverine’s denning period. This data comes from satellite images and telemetry sites. During summers, 95 percent of telemetry locations of wolverines during summertime were in areas of persistent snow and 86 percent of winter locations also fell in these habitats. This study (Copeland, 2010) records satellite photographs from 2000 to 2006. The proxy of persistent spring snow for critical wolverine habitat is as close to a perfect wildlife management tool that we have for any large mammal in the Continental United States.

The only thing anyone, including feds, can do for the wolverine is stop killing them. Most wolverines die in traps, especially traps set for wolves. Since MTFWP refuses to budge on any restriction of trapping whatsoever--it's like freedom, god & guns--it's time for everyday folk to get involved. Consider putting a ban on trapping on the ballot. Let's see how everyone feels.

Download Doug's wolverine comments to the USFWS (wolverine_FWS.docx)

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