The wolverine: one gnarly dude…who needs our help

Click image for Gulo gulo natural history

Updated 7/5/14: Politics trumps science; USFWS reverses ESA listing proposal – here. Leaked FWS memo is here.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the stinkiest, snarliest, gnarliest, wildest of them all? Why, Gulo gulo–the amazing wolverine–of course!

And the gnarly little being needs our help within the next few days (5/6/13 deadline). Unless you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll probably never see a wolverine in your lifetime, at least not outside of a zoo–and that’s a hideous thought for any wild animal, but especially for this wide-ranging, endlessly-moving dynamo. But even so–a mere few minutes to help save the wildest of the wild? A bargain at any price! Read on…

The First People have a long history with the wolverine on our continent:

Fearless, tenacious, and always on the go, the “skunk bear” is the largest land-dwelling member of the weasel family. Their extremely low population densities make them vulnerable to external pressures like trapping and habitat fragmentation, and, indeed, humans hold the top spot for wolverine predation, according to The Wolverine Foundation. You can’t do better than to watch their three-minute video, “The Need to Move“–gorgeous scenery, fantastic wolverine shots, and the lowdown from a top researcher. Watch it and you’ll be ready to go to bat for this wild one.

Wolverines were caught up in predator eradication programs and fell upon hard times in the first half of the 20th century: “To the best of our knowledge,wolverines were pushed back and pretty much extirpated in the contiguous US due to a combination of trapping and, perhaps more devastatingly, poison-baiting intended for other carnivores (primarily wolves)…” (Wolverine Blog).

The Northern Rockies continue to host small pockets of populations; Montana’s has been the subject of intense debate given that trapping continues here–the only state in the lower 48 to allow it. I’ve heard tell that trappers consider the wolverine their “Holy Grail,” and the state management agency stands firmly with trappers–a minute fraction of all Montana citizens (see “Montana will oppose protections for wolverines“).

The real game-changer for wolverines

Though a scrappy, 40-pound wolverine might challenge a grizzly bear for scavenging rights at the Carrion Cafe, there’s one thing wolverines can’t take on: Climate change. Cold temperatures and deep snow aren’t preferences–they’re species requirements. Babies (called kits) are born in birthing dens buried deep in snow–persistent, stable snow greater than five feet deep for security and insulation and lasting well into April and May (source). If Glacier National Park’s glaciers are doomed (video)–some say gone by 2020!–what’s to become of the wolverine? This is where you and I come in. The following comment deadlines have all passed.

(Previous) COMMENT DEADLINE: Monday, May 6, 2013 at 11:59 pm ET

Click here; you’ll find a short summary of the issue–well worth the minute it takes to read. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposes listing the wolverine as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in the contiguous United States, thereby protecting the species and its diminishing habitat. Over to the right on that page, you can check the number of comments received since the 90-day comment period opened. As I write, it’s at 9518, having jumped by several hundred overnight. Add your voice by clicking the “comment now” button. If all you’ve got time for is some variation of “Please list the wolverine as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in the contiguous states,” that’ll do! Click “submit” and you’re done.

Then reward yourself with this 2-1/2 minute video from the author of The Wolverine Way, featuring crazy-beautiful shots of wolverines at work and play in Glacier National Park. Can’t get enough? Here a wolverine takes on an intruding black bear. Guess who wins?!? Want more? Wolverine vs. wolf…wow, check out the headlocks! Betcha can’t guess who walks away with a bloody nose!

If, by now, you’ve been bitten by gulomania, welcome to the club! Supporting ESA listing for this bodacious brawler is the most important thing you’ll do today, and if wolverines were known to display genteel manners, maybe they’d roar their thanks your way.

Then again, maybe they’d just as soon rassle you into a headlock.
Also: The Wolverine Foundation’s kids page; map of worldwide wolverine distribution; “Whither the wolverine” at Counterpunch
Nov. 2013: The comment period on wolverine listing was re-opened on 10/31/13. Click here for info and links. Comment deadline is Dec. 2, 2013.

Comment on this post at animal law blog Animal Blawg.

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