by John S. Adams, reports for the Great Falls Tribune
HELENA, Mont. — Eight conservation and sportsman’s groups are calling on the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to halt wolverine trapping in the state until populations of the elusive alpine carnivore stabilize.
Montana is the only state in the contiguous United States to allow wolverine trapping for fur. Sponsored Links
The groups argue that wolverine numbers are currently below the number needed for genetic viability and “nowhere near high enough to provide recreational trapping opportunities” in the state. Wolverine are currently a candidate for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act and Montana is the only state in the contiguous United States to allow wolverine trapping for fur. Up to five wolverine, or three females, can be trapped and killed in Montana each season.
The petitioners are asking FWP to close the wolverine trapping season now, before the 2012 trapping season begins on Dec. 1, and to not reopen it until wolverine populations have recovered enough to no longer need Endangered Species Act protections. “This is the right thing to do — morally, scientifically, socially, and ecologically — for the future of wolverine and the future of trapping in Montana,” said Gary Ingman, a board member of the Helena Hunters and Anglers Association. “The biological models show that the current population levels simply are not self-sustaining.”
FWP director Joe Maurier said his office received the petition Wednesday but his staff had not had a chance to review the document. Officials for the Montana Trapping Association did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment on the petition. The groups calling for a halt to wolverine trapping said trapping is a major source of wolverine mortality in the state and has had significant negative effects on the species’ ability to recover in small, isolated mountain ranges.
“We’re lucky to see wolverine on rare occasions here in the Swan Range of northwest Montana, where they were first studied back in the 1970s,” said Keith Hammer, chairman of the Swan View Coalition. “Trapping must stop if these rare and wonderful animals are to return from the brink of extinction.”
The largest member of the weasel family, wolverine resemble small bears that are specially adapted to high-elevation mountain living. Wolverine have large clawed feet ideally suited for digging and climbing and walking on snow, and ice and their thick coat enables them to withstand extremely cold temperatures.
They also have an extremely high metabolism that allows them to constantly stay on the move.
According to wolverine researcher Douglas Chadwick, a wolverine fitted with a GPS tracking device in 2007 summited Glacier National Park’s highest peak, Mount Cleveland, in the middle of winter. Known as M3 to researchers, the wolverine climbed the last 4,900 feet to the 10,466-foot summit in 90 minutes, according to Chadwick’s 2010 book “The Wolverine Way.”
The groups asking for a halt to trapping are Friends of the Wild Swan, Montana Ecosystem Defense Council, Helena Hunters and Anglers, Native Ecosystems Council, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Swan View Coalition, Wild Earth Guardians and Footloose Montana . According to the Western Environmental Law Center, the law firm representing the petitioners, Montana state law requires FWP to manage wolverine in a manner that “assists in the maintenance or recovery” of the species.
According to recent studies the wolverine population in the state is between 100 and 175 animals. The number capable of producing offspring is much smaller, perhaps as few as 30 animals.
In one recent study, of the 14 Wolverine tracked in the Pioneer Mountains during a three-year period, six were killed in traps, including four adult males and two pregnant females. As a result of trapping, the wolverine population in the Pioneers was reduced by an estimated 50 percent, according to the petition.
Helena ecologist George Wuerthner, the only individual to sign on to the petition, said wolverine populations are under increasing stress from loss of habitat due to global warming. Wolverine require persistent spring snowpack for dens and to rear their young. As global warming reduces the amount of high-elevation snowpack that lasts into the late summer wolverine are relegated to smaller and smaller island ecosystems, Wuerthner said.
“Even a loss of a few individuals, particularly females, can lead to a significant downward trend. We can be quietly wiping out wolverine from one mountain range to the next,” Wuerthner said. “If there is a breeding population in some mountain range that is killed, that could mean the end of that population.”
Matthew Bishop, a Helena attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center, said by authorizing trapping under the current circumstances, FWP is “making a bad situation worse.”
“Wolverine are the polar bear of the lower 48 states and need all the help they can get right now in the face of a warming planet, shrinking habitat, and increased isolation,” Bishop said. “Montana shouldn’t be kicking them when they’re down.”