From the looks of their brochure, the snowmobile club in Dixie, Idaho wants you take a ride with them next winter—illegally in the Gospel Hump Wilderness.
“We got a copy of their calendar for 2000,” explained Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater, “and there’s a picture of a club trip with Buffalo Hump in the background. We called the Forest Service and supposedly they’re investigating.” Snowmobiling has been banned from many public lands.
Nonetheless, growing snowmobile access to roadless and wilderness areas is a major factor in a July decision by Friends of the Clearwater and other groups to re-petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for protection of the wolverine under the Endangered Species Act. A consortium of environmental groups filed for the same protection in 1994 and were denied due to a lack of data on wolverines.
“We decided to re-file now because there have been some developments both scientifically and politically since 1994,” said Dave Gaillard of the Bozeman-based Predator Conservation Alliance, which also is listed on the current wolverine petition.
“First, in 1994, there were only five wolverine studies that had ever been conducted in the United States. Currently there are about 12, and they’re consistently finding that wolverines, their den sites in particular, require roadless wilderness undisturbed by human activity.”
Both Gaillard and Macfarlane concur that the biggest concern with respect to wolverines has been the increase in snowmobile activity around the nation over the past decade. “Snowmobile technology is allowing those machines to go where they couldn’t before,” Macfarlane points out. “Not only that, but there are a lot more of them.”
The proposed listing of the wolverine as threatened or endangered comes on the heels of the listing of the lynx last spring. Both animals require remote, high-elevation habitats not easily accessed by humans. The den sites of wolverines must remain especially undisturbed, a notion that may eventually require new definitions of caution as more citizens venture into the backcountry. They require not just roadless wilderness, experts say, but areas completely undisturbed by humans, especially from mid-February to mid-March, the peak of denning activity for wolverines. “This is also the most popular time to snowmobile,” Gaillard notes.
Western Montana contains the best remaining viable wolverine habitat in the country, advocates say, with populations in the Swan Range, the Bob Marshall, and the greater Salmon-Selway ecosystem.