Wolverine

There are only an estimated half dozen wolverines in the state, mostly in the Teton Range.

Wyoming officials have again told the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that that they oppose extending federal protection to the wolverine, the Teton Range’s rarest mammal.

Fish and Wildlife faces a mid-August deadline to make a decision about whether to manage wolverines as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

In a comment letter submitted to the service last month, Gov. Matt Mead explained Wyoming’s position on the matter.

“One year ago today I wrote that the listing of wolverines is not warranted and laid out my many concerns,” Mead wrote. “My comments are still germane.”

Wyoming, the governor wrote in his first letter, is particularly opposed to proposed reintroductions of the wolverine into some of their former habitats, including Colorado and the Equality State’s own Big Horn Mountains.

“Considering the long distances that wolverines are capable of moving,” the governor wrote in May 2013, “I am concerned that wolverines resulting from a reintroduction effort in Colorado could establish in Wyoming and have full protection of the Endangered Species Act.”

In the letter Mead calls for wolverines in most of Wyoming to be managed as experimental and nonessential and without the full force of the Endangered Species Act.

“In the service’s proposed rule, Wyoming is afforded the smallest [nonessential, experimental] designation compared to that proposed for Colorado and New Mexico — it is inadequate and prejudicial,” he wrote.

“Wyoming requires a [nonessential, experimental] designation similar to the boundaries of Wyoming’s wolf predator zone. It is important that the Bighorn Mountains be included in a [nonessential, experimental] designation.”

Reintroduced wolverines that wander into the nonessential, experimental zone Mead espouses ought to be relocated, he wrote.

“We would expect that all efforts be made to determine the origin of any wolverine in question,” the governor wrote, “and that the cost be borne by an entity other than the State of Wyoming.”

The mid-size predator is rarely implicated in livestock depredations. Where wolverines do range, their numbers are low.

The northwest corner of the state, including Jackson Hole, is a wolverine stronghold where reintroduction wouldn’t be necessary.

The tenacious and elusive 17- to 40-pound cousin of the weasel is so uncommon it’s estimated that just four to seven individuals inhabit the entire Teton Range, which is considered ideal habitat.

“Everywhere they are at they’re at low densities,” said Bob Lanka, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s supervisor of biological services. “They’re not like elk or antelope or meadowlark.”

Wyoming manages wolverines as a “species of greatest conservation need” and allows no hunting or trapping, Lanka said.

The expected future effects of climate change, expected to diminish mountain snowpack wolverines need for reproduction, are the heart of Fish and Wildlife’s proposal to manage wolverines as threatened.

Mead extended the doubt he frequently casts on the phenomenon of climate change to its potential impacts on wolverines.

“Members of the Wolverine Science Panel still harbor uncertainty and lack consensus on the theoretical effect of climate change on wolverine populations,” the governor wrote in the May letter. “A listing decision is still not warranted.”

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them for 7 years. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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