Photo by Dale Pedersen

Fearless But Vulnerable

Historically, wolverines ranged south from Canada and Alaska, through the mountainous regions of the West to California, Utah, and Colorado. Today, healthy populations of wolverines inhabit remote, high-elevation areas of the Northern Cascades in Washington, and the northern Rocky Mountains in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. It is estimated there are between 250-300 wolverines in the contiguous United States today.

M56 (aka Marty)

Wolverines historically lived in Colorado until 1919, but were wiped out by poisoning and trapping targeted against coyotes and other predators. In the spring of 2009, Colorado welcomed the arrival of M56 (affectionately nicknamed “Marty”), a lone wolverine who traveled 500 miles from Wyoming to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Park and who was thought to be Colorado’s first wolverine in over 90 years.

Unfortunately, in May 2016, Marty, after traveling all the way to North Dakota, was shot and killed by a farm hand who thought that he might kill the livestock, unaware that wolverines are opportunistic feeders who primarily feed on available carcasses.

Colorado as Refuge

Current climate change projections indicate that wolverines could lose up to 63% of their snowy habitat in the lower-48 by the year 2085. Colorado’s Rocky Mountains are likely to retain much of their spring snowpack, because of their high elevation, which could provide an important refuge for wolverines in the West.

Seeking Endangered Species Protection

In August 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service withdrew its proposed rule to list the wolverine as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, citing a determination “that the effects of climate change are not likely to place the wolverine in danger of extinction now or in the foreseeable future.” In response to that decision, Rocky Mountain Wild joined a coalition of eight other groups to sue the Service for refusal to protect the species under the Endangered Species Act.

On April 4, 2016, Chief Judge Dana L. Christensen of the U.S. District Court for Montana ruled in favor of our coalition. Christensen ordered the agency to reconsider its position saying it had “unlawfully ignored the best available science by dismissing the threat to the wolverine” due to “immense political pressure.”

We are currently waiting for the agency to reconsider its position. If they deem listing to be warranted, they will then publish a proposed rule at which time we will provide comments.