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  • Will wolverine return to Rocky Mountains?

    Endangered listing could lead to reintroduction program

    The tenacious wolverine, a snow-loving predator sometimes called the “mountain devil,” is threatened by climate change. Enlarge photo

    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

    The tenacious wolverine, a snow-loving predator sometimes called the “mountain devil,” is threatened by climate change.

    The solitary wolverine, last reported in Colorado in 1919, could be reintroduced as an experimental population under a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal.

    “It won’t be done quickly,” Randy Hampton, statewide spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said Friday. “There’s a long way to go.”

    If the wolverine is listed as endangered, Colorado Parks and Wildlife would lead the reintroduction.

    Hampton’s agency three years ago shifted its own wolverine reintroduction discussions into neutral pending a lawsuit settlement that required Fish and Wildlife to decide by this year whether to protect the wolverine.

    The decision came Friday when Fish and Wildlife proposed to list the species in the lower 48 as a threatened species and to designate the southern Rocky Mountains (Colorado, Wyoming and northern New Mexico) an experimental, nonessential population area.

    Climate change, which is reducing some of the spring snowpack that provides protective habitat for young wolverines until they are weaned, was cited as the threat.

    The wolverine, a member of the weasel family, resembles a bear cub. The animal is compact with short legs, fierce, weighs up to 55 pounds and has inordinate strength for its size. It is a carnivore but also eats carrion, eggs, roots and berries.

    In the 1990s, the lynx and the wolverine were being considered under the Endangered Species Act, Hampton said. There was not enough money to study both, he said, but once the reintroduction of the lynx was deemed a success, attention turned to the wolverine.

    Parks and Wildlife began reintroduction talks after a male wolverine outfitted with a GPS collar, designated as M56 from a wildlife project near Grand Teton National Park, arrived in Colorado in 2009.

    The fugitive took up residency in Colorado and crossed Interstate 70 several times but remained largely north of the interstate, Hampton said. M56 apparently still is hanging around.

    The suspended talks involved such stakeholders as the mining, timber and ski industries, agricultural interests, off-road recreation and environmental groups and private-land owners.

    “There were too many questions looming about the status of the wolverine under a Fish and Wildlife designation,” Hampton said. “Now we’ll need to review the situation.”

    Listing the wolverine as endangered will require approval from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission and the state Legislature, Hampton said.

    A statement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Friday said 250 to 300 wolverines inhabit the lower 48 states, where trapping and poisoning led to near extinction in the early 1900s.

    More than 90 percent of wolverine habitat in the 48 states is federal land.

    Hunting and trapping the wolverine would be prohibited if the endangered status is given, the statement said. The listing would not affect current land uses.

    daler@durangoherald.com