Wild Colorado: Colorado’s lonely wolverine
SUMMIT DAILY NEWS
Eric Odell, a Colorado Division of Wildlife species conservation coordinator, has been keeping tabs on an unlikely Colorado Rockies species – the wolverine. The wolverine populations in Colorado, so far as Odell knows?
Known only as M56, with the “M” standing for male, this wolverine traveled to Colorado from the Grand Teton area of Wyoming, where he first received his GPA collar and implanted transmitter chip.
It took him seven to eight weeks back in 2009 to make his voyage to the Continental Divide area between Rocky Mountain National Park and Interstate 70, which is where he currently calls home.
M56 was last seen in November, traversing the Continental Divide.
Odell said it was an unusual trek, calling it a “broad and dramatically southern” movement. Since M56 has been in Colorado, he’s monitored on an opportunistic basis but not highly researched, Odell said. That work is left to biologists in Glacier National Park in Montana, which is where most of the research about wolverines is based.
However, Odell, who also focuses on lynx and river otter, finds the process of uncovering facts about the wolverine interesting.
In particular, the wolverine’s reputation as a vicious, bipolar and solitary creature with not much of an inclination toward friendliness with other species is not exactly well-founded, he said. Likely labeled as such by trappers, the reputation has followed it. The species name – Gulo gulo – when translated, reads “gluttonous glutton,” Odell said.
But, the bottom line is, they’re still vulnerable. And, there’s not much known about these low-density, high-alpine creatures who live at or above tree line.
Which is perhaps why they’re listed as “warranted but precluded” in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service’s system. It means the animal is a candidate for being listed as endangered.
“It deserves protection but other species have higher priority” for the resources of the agency, Odell said.
The wolverine is most affected by changing climate, Odell said, because it’s affecting the wolverine’s habitat: The base of avalanches is where they build their dens in late spring. If spring snow pack doesn’t stick around, breeding is affected. And these animals’ breeding already isn’t always successful each year.
But to be listed as endangered, a host of other issues must also be met.
By not being listed, the wolverine may get special management attention at the state level, but no federal legislation or regulation is issued.
Interestingly, “Colorado may in some ways be the climate change refuge for the species,” Odell said. “It’s the southernmost in its range, but the highest in elevation.”
Unfortunately, M56 is all alone for now. Females don’t have the capacity to travel the way males do, so the animal – who is estimated to be about 3 years old – will likely live and die alone. Wolverines live to be 8 to 10 years old on average, Odell said.
Minimal monitoring and seeking other individuals is done by the Odell’s DOW team to see if other wolverines are in the area, but none have been found.
“We don’t have a population of wolverines in Colorado,” he said. “We just have an individual.”
Odell said research among the areas with populations of wolverines shows them to be more social amongst the species and with other species outside of the late fall-early winter breeding season than originally thought, but they still tend to roam freely and individually.
He did say wolverines tend to be among the more solitary creatures, and have a “very large home range” – upward of 300 to 500 square miles – though Odell hesitated to call it the largest of any land mammal. The range and capacity to travel is much larger for males.
“It’s a unique niche they’ve come to occupy,” Odell said, particularly as it’s an animal that isn’t a habitat specialist that depends on one food source and can therefore be broader ranging.
“They have no forest cover or vegetative needs,” Odell said, adding that they “eat anything and everything,” from marmots to squirrels to larger beasts and carrion – bones, skin and all – often from animals killed in avalanches.
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