Wolverine reintroduction in Colorado? | SummitDaily.com

Wolverine reintroduction in Colorado?

Bruce Finley
the denver post
AP Photo
ALL | Glacier National Park

M56, the male wolverine who wandered solo from Wyoming to Colorado 18 months ago, has survived – inspiring state officials to explore a formal reintroduction of 30 more of his kind.

A cigar-size radio transmitter sewn into M56’s belly still sends signals indicating healthy hunting and scavenging. State wildlife managers say citizens also have reported sightings, confirmed with aerial surveillance.

But Colorado ski area operators, uneasy after state reintroduction of threatened lynx, are bristling at the prospect of more wild predators with protected status near ski slopes.

“We think the timing is very, very wrong,” Colorado Ski Country USA president Melanie Mills said. “Why the rush?

“Let’s be thoughtful about this and make sure there are budget dollars available for a decade to collect the kind of data on the animal you need before you put (wolverines) on the ground,” Mills said.

“That way you don’t put land users in the position of having restrictions put on land use that are not based on science,” she said.

The fear, she said, is that ski-resort expansion on federal land, and even existing operations, could be restricted if the government embraces wolverines.

A draft state plan considers importing 30 to 40 wolverines starting in 2012.

Federal biologists recently determined that wolverines face extinction and need protection to survive. A future designation under the Endangered Species Act almost certainly would include Colorado, which offers an estimated 8 million acres of the high, rugged terrain that wolverines need.

Less than 1 percent of that terrain has been leased to ski areas, Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Theo Stein said.

State wildlife managers who ran the $3 million project that successfully brought back lynx now know enough to be far more efficient reintroducing wolverines, Stein said. State officials would press federal officials for an agreement that ensures ranchers and ski operators wouldn’t be hurt, he said.

“We need everybody to be comfortable,” Stein said. “The problems are going to be minimal. This is a pretty hardy animal. It doesn’t need a lot of protection.”

Federal studies estimate 250 wolverines live in the lower 48 states.

Defenders of Wildlife is poised to help fund a Colorado wolverine project, said Dave Gaillard, that advocacy group’s regional representative.

“I don’t blame (ski areas) for worrying, but they do not need to worry,” Gaillard said. “There’s a lot more habitat out there for wolverines than what ski areas currently occupy.”

Males need 200 to 600 square miles to range. Females need 55 to 150 square miles.

Spotted in the spring of 2009, M56 apparently has ranged between the northern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park and the Collegiate Mountains west of Fairplay.

Last week when Denver resident Terra Maurer, 28, was out looking for a Christmas tree near Fairplay, she saw something fiercer than a marmot that she contends was a wolverine.

Her 45-pound cattle dog, Dingo, found it and tried to grab it around its neck, Maurer said.

“It looked like a squashed beaver, but it was big and had long claws. It was hissing and it smelled like a skunk,” she said. “From now on, when we go up there, I’m keeping my dog on a leash.”

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