Friday, August 15, 2014
Do wolverines live here in Colorado?
They are dangerous, solitary, dark figures that wander long distances in high, lonesome, cold, difficult country. Like ghosts of mountain beasts past, or the Hugh Jackman character Logan, aka Wolverine, aka Stab Man, aka Knifey Boy, in world that never expected to see a big budget comic book movies again — they resurface out of nowhere.
My dad, a life-long resident of the state until his death in 2013, insisted that there are wolverines in Colorado. Not only that, but he claimed he had spotted the beast twice in the last few years.
“From an official standpoint,” noted Tyler Baskfield, spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, when I asked him about it several years ago, “They do not exist here in the state.”
“There are reported sightings throughout the state – mostly at higher elevations,” Baskfield acknowledges. The animals are difficult to document because “they roam 60 or so miles a day, that makes it hard to keep up with them.”
According to Colorado Parks & Wildlife's site today, it is still difficult to document them.
"There once was a viable population of wolverine in the state, however the last confirmed record was from 1919. Twelve survey efforts from 1979-1996 yielded no confirmed sightings. Colorado’s high elevation and rugged terrain were and are good wolverine habitat, but because the species naturally exists in extremely low numbers wherever it is found, the species was never numerous here. In 2009, researchers from Grand Teton National Park tracked a wolverine into northcentral Colorado. It is estimated that Colorado has the potential to support approximately 100 animals at full carrying capacity. Because the animal needs large areas of cold, rocky habitat, the vast majority of land where the animal would live occurs on high-elevation public lands."
Not far from here, in February of 1966, came the report of the slaying of wolverine, at that time, the first verified in Colorado in more than 25 years.
“The animal was shot Friday by Roy Goecker of 4900 S. Wadsworth Blvd., Littleton, a professional guide, while he was hunting mountain lions along Pine Creek near Rampart Range in Douglas County,” wrote Al Nakkula of the Rocky Mountain News more than 48 years ago.
“Goecker told game officials his three hunting dogs came across the scent of the wolverine and pursued it into a rocky draw where the animal was cornered in deep snow. The guide said he was compelled to shoot the wolverine because of the known ferocious nature of the animal, to save his dogs.”
Nakkula’s Rocky Mountain News story at the time cited Herman Schultz, a wildlife conservation officer for the State Game, Fish and Parks Department, as saying the that the wolverine easily could have destroyed Goecker’s hunting dogs.
“He estimated the brown-black wolverine, a female about three feet long and weighing 21 pounds, was about 20 years old. Although the animal still had long sharp claws, her normal large fangs were nearly worn down to the gums because of age,” the report said.
According to San Francisco State University Department of Geography, the species officially named Gulo Gulo, but commonly known as wolverine, glutton, skunk bear, Indian devil, and carcajou, is a fairly elusive critter.
“Basic information on wolverine habitat relationships is almost non-existent,” says the University’s web site. “They generally inhabit areas above timberline, oftentimes preferring lower-elevation forests during winter. Wolverines occur in such low numbers across most of their remote habitat, and are so mobile; that it has been is extremely difficult to study them.”
“Healthy populations of wolverines appear to exist in Montana and Idaho, but scientists have been unable to locate populations in other plausible mountain locations, such as southwest Colorado or the Cascades of Washington,” says San Francisco State University’s site, “They have evaded trap and camera in California for over 75 years.”
The Department of Geography at Michigan State University (Wolverines) notes that extensive scientific efforts in California and Michigan have failed to prove that they still inhabit those states.
“Since 1979 Colorado wildlife officers have investigated more than 100 sightings and snow tracks, but by the time they return with a camera, the tracks have invariably drifted over. The closest they’ve come to a real wolverine was in 1982, when they nabbed an escapee from a Colorado Springs zoo who had gotten himself hopelessly tangled in a Denver window well,” according the Michigan State University’s Department of Geography web site.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced on Aug. 12, that it has withdrawn the proposed rule to list wolverine as threatened in the contiguous United States under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) supports the USFWS for careful scrutiny of the available science on potential impacts of climate change on wolverine status, according to a release from CPW on Thursday, Aug. 14.
"CPW believes that state wildlife agencies within the wolverine range have developed conservation programs that are effective in maintaining wolverines within the lower 48 states, as evidenced by expansion in distribution of the species. The USFWS simultaneously withdrew a proposed “nonessential-experimental” population designation for the southern Rockies."
In July 2010, the Wildlife Commission (now the Parks and Wildlife Commission) authorized staff to begin having conversations with conservation partners and stakeholders about the potential reintroduction of wolverines. CPW intends to reconvene the stakeholder group and continue those discussions in light of the recent Federal decision not to list wolverine. Approvals to undertake a reintroduction would be necessary from the Parks and Wildlife Commission and the State Legislature.
"Historically, Colorado was home to wolverine, but due to trapping, predator control and other activities, the species was extirpated from the state. Although there are currently no documented wolverines in Colorado, the state has a substantial amount of high quality habitat, and there continues to be interest in wolverine conservation in Colorado," according to the CPW.
Prior to 2009, the last known wild wolverine in Colorado was recorded in 1919, says Matt Robbins of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. When I asked about the 1966 report, he checked into it, and said that in that instance, the wolverine turned out to also be an escapee from Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
"The animal was not originally native here, but was moved in from another area."
And I guess while we are talking about moving in ...
In June 2009, "M56," the moniker given to a male wolverine trapped and given an abdominal implant near Grand Teton National Park, was photographed in Rocky Mountain National Park.
"CPW biologists and pilots monitored his whereabouts and determined his locations for the next several years. In addition to being photographed in the park, he was photographed near Guanella Pass in April 2012. He was last located in October 2012. It is unknown why efforts to obtain additional locations were unsuccessful – he may have left the state or the battery in the transmitter may have died," Robbins said.