Wolverines were put on the endangered species list, as a threatened species, by the U.S. government on Friday. According to recent research, wolverines have been doing poorly as the climate has warmed, and reduced the snow fall that they are dependent upon.
There are fewer than 300 wolverines left in the lower 48 states of the United States. They only live, in significant numbers, in the high country of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Washington state currently.
Wolverines are the biggest terrestrial species of the family Mustelidae (weasels). They are very stocky and muscular carnivores, looking almost like a small bear in some ways. They have a reputation as being fierce, aggressive, and incredibly strong for their weight. They are known to kill animals much larger than themselves. There have even been reports of wolverines taking down bull moose.
They are found mostly in “remote reaches of the Northern boreal forests and subarctic and alpine tundra of the Northern Hemisphere, with the greatest numbers in northern Canada, the U.S. state of Alaska, the Nordic countries of Europe, and throughout western Russia and Siberia. Their populations have experienced a steady decline since the 19th century in the face of trapping, range reduction, deforestation, and habitat fragmentation, such that they are essentially absent in the southern end of their European range. Large populations are thought to remain in North America and northern Asia. Wolverines are solitary animals.”
While they are fierce carnivores, they actually will eat almost anything, much like a bear. Birds, berries, lynx, wolf and coyote pups, eggs, roots, seeds, are all on the menu. They are known to be able to defend a kill from a packs of wolves, and even bears in some cases. Though, alternately, some groups of wolves have been observed specifically going out of their way to hunt and kill wolverines.
“They build their dens, reproduce and store food in areas with snow deeper than five feet in high-elevation environments unoccupied by humans and undisturbed by snowmobilers and skiers.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also announced that they will be accepting public comment on the new listing until May 6th, for those that may object to its new categorization.
As part of the listing, conservationists are looking to get wolverine populations reestablished in the Southern Rockies, including Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. They were once endemic to those regions.
Their new status as being a ‘threatened’ species will of course make the intentional killing of them illegal. Their fur is highly valued by trappers.
As climate change continues intensifying, the animals are expected to do poorly. “Rising temperatures and declining snowpack in the mountains are likely to reduce suitable wolverine habitat in the lower 48 states by 63 percent by the end of this century, according to predictions by government scientists.”
“Viable populations of wolverines once roamed expansive tracts of the northern Cascades, the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada before widespread trapping and poisoning severely diminished their numbers and range.”
“Wolverines may cover more than a dozen miles a day across rugged terrain in search of food, believed to be the primary factor driving the animals’ movements and explaining the vastness of their home ranges, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.”
“Successful males will form lifetime relationships with two or three females, which they will visit occasionally, while other males are left without a mate. Mating season is in the summer, but the actual implantation of the embryo (blastocyst) in the uterus is stayed until early winter, delaying the development of the fetus. Females will often not produce young if food is scarce. The wolverine gestation period is 30–50 days. Litters of typically two or three young (‘kits’) are born in the spring. Kits develop rapidly, reaching adult size within the first year of a lifespan that may reach anywhere from five to (in exceptional individuals) 13 years. Fathers make visits to their offspring until they are weaned at 10 weeks of age; also, once the young are about six months old, some reconnect with their fathers and travel together for a time.”