Wilderness-loving carnivores, wolverines are powerful and relatively few. Washington's Cascades are one of the last places in the lower 48 where wolverines are known to exist.
Speak up for wolverines by May 6, 2013!
Wolverines are fierce hunters and long distance hunters, covering great distances in their search for carrion, including ungulates killed by winter and other food. Shy of humans, their wide-ranging travel also makes it difficult for biologists to study them. Our citizen run remote cameras have captures remarkable recent photos of wolverines.
Like mountain caribou, wolverines are survivors of an ice-age environment. They are threatened not only by habitat loss but by climate change, trapping, and highways and other development.
Where wolverines live
In North America outside of Canada and Alaska, wolverines are now constrained to remote wilderness regions in the northern and western mountainous states, in areas like the Cascade Mountains and Rocky Mountains, where heavy snowpacks persist well into spring.
Wolverines were probably never very numerous, but following years of heavy trapping and indiscriminate poison-baiting aimed at other carnivores, they were lost from most of their US historical range by the early 1900s. Today, they are thought to number just 300 in the lower 48, mostly in Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Trapping of wolverines is still allowed in Wyoming; proposed protections for wolverines would stop that.
Federal researchers have studied Washington’s wolverines since 2005, tracking a total of eleven wolverines in the Cascades, seven females and four males, who live in the North Cascades transboundary region, and locating two natal den sites.
Conservation Northwest’s wildlife monitoring project has documented three additional wolverines in the Cascades using unique chest markings and DNA from hair snags.
Wolverine protection, a timeline
Protections for wolverines are underway. Comments are due May 6, 2013. Send yours!
- The campaign to protect wolverines begins in 2000 with a petition to the US Fish and Wildlife Service requesting a listing of wolverines under the ESA.
- When the Service refused to act, conservationists went to federal court, putting the agency on schedule for the listing process.
- In 2003 the Service issued a preliminary negative finding on the listing petition, and conservationists won in court again, eliciting a 2005 federal judge opinion that the Service has ignored “substantial scientific information” demonstrating threats to wolverines.
- The agency returned in 2008 with yet another negative listing finding for the wolverine. Conservationists returned to court, this time resulting in a settlement by which the Service agreed to reconsider its finding.
- The US Fish and Wildlife Service in 2010 determined that wolverines warranted protection, but it took till February 2013 for the proposed listing to occur.
Remote camera monitoring and tracking
Conservation Northwest is working to keep their habitat in the Cascades connected to other habitats in the Rockies and British Columbia. We are also monitoring their populations by sending volunteers to put out camera traps and help us with winter tracking.
In the past few years, we've placed remote cameras in potential wolverine habitat to entice visits by wolverines and other rare carnivores. In 2012, cameras at a pole station recorded a wolverine named Peg, the first wolverine documented south of Hwy 2 in more than 20 years.
Read more about habitat and wolverines.
Female wolverines rely on deep snow for their dens, digging eight or more feet into the snow to provide warmth and shelter for kits.
Wolverines have thick dark brown fur with a honey-brown stripes traveling along each side from the shoulders to the base of the tail. One of the early indigenous names for them translated as "skunk bear."
The largest land-based animal of the weasel family, the wolverine weighs 15 to 40 pounds. (Larger mustelids are the sea otter and giant otter.)
These awesome predators have a keen sense of smell for finding food, for example animals killed by avalanche, buried deep beneath the snow.
Wolverines are predominantly scavengers of carrion of large mammals (including mountain goat, deer, elk, moose, and caribou). But they also prey on marmots, ground squirrels, snowshoe hares, and other small mammals. Like coyotes and other carnivores, they will also eat insects and berries.
Wolverine are capable of taking down animals five times their own body weight when snow conditions give them a predatory advantage. They are known to chase away cougars and grizzly bears!.
- Wolverines are most often solitary, except during mating season. But as we learn more about them, we see that they will hunt together occasionally and sometimes "hang with" siblings.