Montana’s dwindling wolverine population received a small reprieve earlier this month when Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) proposed reducing the number of legal wolverine harvests by one animal statewide, from 10 to nine.
While the proposal is still open to public comment, the decision provided much-needed good news for wolverine advocates concerned about the elusive animal’s numbers. Montana is the only state outside of Alaska where trappers can legally snare wolverines for sport. Despite the fact only 500 are estimated to remain in the Lower 48 states—with up to half living primarily in Montana—trappers need only spend $20 for a license to kill and mount the threatened gulo gulo.
“Evidence shows that there are simply too few wolverines left to continue trapping,” says David Gaillard of Defenders of Wildlife.
Although wolverines failed to garner federal Endangered Species protection just three months ago, Gaillard says the animal lives in such low population densities in isolated alpine areas that its genetic diversity is at extreme risk. And since females den solely in deep-snow areas, the giant weasels may be second only to polar
bears in their immediate risk to climate change.
“What we know about wolverines is that females select den sites only in areas that retain snow until late spring, and due to global warming there will be far fewer such places in the Northern Rockies,” says Gaillard.
A 2007 study conducted by the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula shows that trapping is the “primary factor affecting wolverine survival.” When combined with a major reduction in sufficient denning areas, Defenders believes that Montana’s wolverine season should go extinct before the animal does.
“We advocate additional restrictions to wolverine trapping, ideally closing the season altogether,” says Gaillard. “It’s important to ensure the ongoing survival and restoration of wolverines in Montana and across the U.S. Northern Rockies.”