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Montana Sen. John Walsh introduced a bill on May 22, 2014, calling for protections for East Rosebud Creek, a spectacular stream that rushes off the granite shoulders of the Beartooth Mountains through undulating ranchlands. East Rosebud is a stronghold for native cutthroat trout.

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HOME > Issues > Wildlife
Wolverine: Greater Yellowstone a Refuge

Latest News: Comments closed in May, 2013 on a proposal by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list the wolverine as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act in Greater Yellowstone and elsewhere across the lower 48 states. The public, along with more than 20,000 GYC supporters, supported this plan. Read our comments here. We expect a decision regarding the wolverine in the coming months from decison makers.

Overview: One of the most fascinating and least understood creatures found in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is the fierce and elusive wolverine. Spending most of its time above 8,000 feet in remote mountain ranges, the wolverine lives at the literal top of the ecosystem. Biologists estimate there are fewer than 300 in the contiguous United States, primarily in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and north-central Washington. And with perhaps only a few dozen animals inhabiting Greater Yellowstone, it’s no wonder the wolverine is a rare sight. (See habitat map here.)

In 2008, GYC joined a group of plaintiffs represented by Earthjustice in a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) decision not to consider wolverines for protection under the Endangered Species Act. We feared that wolverines were likely becoming increasingly isolated in their mountain strongholds due to climate change and increasing human development.

As consequence of GYC’s lawsuit and other legal action, USFWS proposed to list wolverines as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, primarily because of the threat that climate change poses. Females require deep snow that persists through mid-spring for raising their young, but wolverines may lose up to two-thirds of suitable habitat by the end of this century. Without adequate spring snow cover, wolverines appear to have difficulty reproducing. Researchers estimate that the extent of areas in the western U.S. with persistent spring snowpack is likely to recede 33 percent by 2045 and 63 percent by 2099 as a result of climate change. As lower-elevation habitats warm and lose spring snowpack, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem with its many high mountain ranges is likely to become a critical refuge for an animal whose numbers are limited. 

In 2001, the Wildlife Conservation Society began a long-term research project focused on determining population size and health, and discerning what habitat wolverines require to survive. Since then, the project team has captured and radio tagged 38 wolverines and located seven den sites throughout Greater Yellowstone. This study, along with other studies, have shed light on the wolverine’s ability to travel astounding distances in search of food or new territory. One young male traveled more than 550 miles through Greater Yellowstone in less than six weeks. Even more incredible, in 2009 a wolverine dubbed “M56” walked from Togwotee Pass, southeast of Yellowstone, all the way to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, making it the first documented wolverine in that state since 1919.

Goals: GYC works to protect the wild and roadless mountain ranges where wolverines persist. We restore migration corridors, secure wilderness designations on public lands, and limit oil and gas development that would fragment intact wild places. Our lands work benefits all wildlife, including wolverines, especially in the face of climate change where Greater Yellowstone will continue to be seen as a wildlife refuge.

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OVERVIEW
  • Wolverines live most of their lives above 8,000 feet and are adapted to cold, snowy conditions.
  • Spring snow cover is an important factor for wolverine denning success and climate change is likely to reduce suitable habitat.
  • The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s high mountain ranges will be a critical climate refuge for wolverines as lower elevation habitats lose snow cover.

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Chris Colligan, Wildlife Program Manager

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