WCS North America

Wolverine Program

Wolverines have long been a subject of myth and legend for their courage and tenacity, but until 2001 when the Wildlife Conservation Society initiated a comprehensive wolverine research and conservation program, wolverine conservation was stymied by lack of reliable information.  Beginning in 2001 and continuing today, WCS is conducting the first rigorous, field-based research on wolverines in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and adjacent portions of the Rocky Mountains.  In doing so, WCS has more than doubled the amount of data ever assembled on wolverines in the contiguous United States. 

With this information WCS is working cooperatively with partners and stakeholders to successfully develop and implement effective actions to overcome identified wolverine conservation challenges such as trapping, forest management, motorized winter recreation, rural residential sprawl and highways, and climate change.

Goals

The overarching goal of the WCS wolverine conservation effort is to ensure a thriving population of wolverines in North America.  Our approach is to gather the best available information through scientifically rigorous field research on wolverine conservation requirements, and then to develop and implement in cooperation with a broad range of stakeholders effective management strategies to mitigate threats to wolverine conservation.  Successes to date include working with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks to end wolverine trapping in a large portion of Montana, appointment of WCS Canada Director, Justina Ray, as a member of Ontario’s Wolverine Recovery Team, and development of a multi-stakeholder coalition plan to restore wolverines to their historical range in the southern Rocky Mountains.

Activities

Protecting Wolverines in the Lower 48 from Climate Change

WCS scientists are working to assess the threats posed by a warming climate and to develop a climate change resilient management adaptation strategy. Work is underway to identify likely shifts in wolverine range and location of potential climate safe refugia and to formulate a climate change adaptation strategy to protect and interlink these refugia and reduce non-climate stressors.

Assess Threats to Wolverines from Winter Recreation

WCS scientists are working to assess the threats posed by motorized winter recreation and to develop a plan to counter motorized winter recreation impacts. Our work will lead to a report assessing severity posed by motorized winter recreation and a detailed mitigation strategy.

Connectivity Conservation for Wolverines in the U.S. Northern Rockies

To ensure healthy populations of wolverines WCS scientists are working to identify essential wolverine habitat linkages to assess threats to these linkages and to develop a connectivity conservation strategy.

Accomplishments

  • Since 2001, WCS has collected over half of all the data ever assembled on wolverine natal dens, wolverine survival and wolverine reproduction in the Lower 48 States. As the first long-term study of wolverines conducted in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, WCS identified the species’ vulnerability to unlimited trapping. This information and collaboration with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (MTFWP) supported the agency decision to reduce trapping to a maximum of five wolverines statewide per year.
  • WCS and key stakeholders at the state and federal level are working together to formulate a plan to reintroduce wolverines to historically occupied areas in the west.  WCS will continue to lead the formulation of this recovery and reintroduction plan, which is the culmination of nine years of intensive research by WCS on this elusive species.
  • Using the same high-quality location data, WCS developed the first available analysis of wolverine home range sizes in the Greater Yellowstone region and surroundings.  This information provides valuable insights into wolverine population density in the region.
  • WCS developed the first scientifically rigorous maximum (since we determined that not all available habitat is presently occupied) population estimate for wolverines in the GYE and surrounding areas.  This analysis shows that an area as large as the GYE cannot sustain a sufficient wolverine population size in isolation.  In other words, to conserve GYE wolverines, we must ensure that this population is not isolated from other populations in the Rocky Mountains.  Moreover this is true for each core region – to conserve wolverines in the GYE, or Salmon-Selway, or Crown of the Continent, steps must be taken to ensure that the populations are connected.
  • WCS established that conserving connectivity among wolverine populations is essential and, therefore, wolverine management must be coordinated across jurisdictions. Our scientists also helped determine that the core strategy to conserve wolverines in the Rocky Mountains must be to protect wolverine population connectivity between the protected regions of the Greater Yellowstone, Salmon-Selway, and Crown of the Continent regions.  WCS termed this region the Central Linkage Ecosystem or CLE.  State and federal land and wildlife management agencies are now using this concept in their internal wolverine conservation strategies and in cross-jurisdictional strategy coordination.

Latest Publications

All Yellowstone and Northern Rockies Publications >>

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Contact

WCS North America Program
212 South Wallace Avenue, Suite 101 Bozeman, MT, 59715 USA
(406) 522-9333

Key Staff

Jeff Burrell
Northern Rockies Program Coordinator
All Northern Rockies Staff >>

Partners Include

Tapeats Fund
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences