Help us honor the legacy of an adventurous wolverine

Collared wolverine M-56, also known as Marty, on the side of a hill
Radio-tracked wolverine M-56 (aka: Marty) in Rocky Mountain National Park, courtesy of Ray Rafiti
Radio tracked wolverine M-56, also known as Marty in a forested area
Radio-tracked wolverine M-56 (aka: Marty) in Rocky Mountain National Park, courtesy of Ray Rafiti

Meet M-56, an adventurous young male wolverine who went on an epic nearly 2000-mile journey and helped to renew interest in plans to reintroduce wolverines to Colorado. 

Scientists with the Wildlife Conservation Society first encountered M-56 near Yellowstone National Park, where they outfitted him with radio tracking devices, as part of a long-term study of wolverines. They named him M-56, which stands for Male number 56. In 2009, not long after they began tracking him from an airplane, M-56 left the mountains in Grand Teton National Park in Northern Wyoming, and traveled 500 miles to Colorado. On his way to Colorado, he traversed the Wind River mountain range, made his way through the arid Wyoming Red Desert, and crossed busy Interstate 80, all in less than a month. 

Colorado’s wolverine population went extinct due to unregulated trapping and poisoning in the early 1900s. Less than two weeks after M-56 entered Colorado, a lucky photographer took a photo of him in Rocky Mountain National Park, making him the first documented wolverine in Colorado in 90 years. Young male wolverines often travel between mountain ranges, looking for mates and space to establish territories. M-56 was probably trying to find a mate and establish his own territory. Unfortunately for M-56, female wolverines tend to stay closer to where they were born and haven’t been found in Colorado since the early 1900s. 

Colorado Parks and Wildlife tracked M-56 from the spring of 2009 through 2012 as he wandered through the Colorado Rockies. He spent time in Rocky Mountain National Park, along the Front Range, and in the mountains near Leadville. At one point, he vanished for two months. Given how fast he traveled from Wyoming to Colorado, he could have toured most of Southern Colorado in that time. After three and a half years in Colorado, wildlife biologists lost his signal (likely when his radio tracking devices died). 

For several years, no one knew what had happened to M-56. Then, in 2016, a rancher in North Dakota shot a wolverine and turned the dead animal in to North Dakota wildlife officials, who were able to identify the wolverine as M-56 from his radio tracking device. Before he died, M-56 was the first wolverine reported in North Dakota in almost 150 years. 

If M-56 had been able to find a mate, he might have stayed in Colorado and helped to establish a new wolverine population. Reintroducing wolverines to Colorado would ensure that both male and female wolverines can return to the state. 

M-56’s fate is sad, but he left an important legacy here in Colorado. He was spotted and photographed by hikers on several occasions and helped to renew interest in reintroducing wolverines to Colorado. Colorado Parks and Wildlife identified a need to reintroduce wolverines to Colorado in the early 1990s but had limited resources at the time and decided to reintroduce Canada lynx first. Around the time that M-56 arrived in Colorado, CPW was working with wolverine experts to model and map areas that they thought would be good wolverine habitat in Colorado. M-56 spent much of his time in Colorado in the areas that had been identified as potential wolverine habitat. His time in Colorado helped to confirm that Colorado has habitat that will sustain wolverines. 

Colorado lawmakers recently passed a historic bill to reintroduce wolverines to Colorado. Rocky Mountain Wild led a coalition of conservation organizations that contributed to a successful effort to pass the legislation, which will allow Colorado Parks and Wildlife to begin a multi-year process of reintroducing wolverines to Colorado. This is the first step in making sure that the next adventurous young male wolverine who decides to travel to Colorado can join other wolverines and find mates. 

Take a moment to remember M-56, think about his life, and be inspired by his amazing journey. Then, think about what it means for wolverines to once again call Colorado’s snowy slopes home! 

Help us honor M-56 by starting a fundraiser or donating to one to help us continue to do the work needed to support wolverine reintroduction as well as the protection, connection, and restoration of other species in the southern Rocky Mountain region. 

Learn more about plans to reintroduce wolverines to Colorado at Learn more about M-56’s story here and see a map of his journey here