Climate Change Takes a Bite out of Wolverines’ Habitat

National Wildlife Photo Contest entry by Robert Postma.
This summer, comic book fanboys and Hugh Jackman admirers are expected to flock to theaters to see The Wolverine, the latest installment of Jackman’s onscreen portrayal of the adamantium-clawed superhero.  Sadly, this may be the only chance most American’s will ever have to see a “wolverine.”

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced they want to add the North American wolverine, a mountain-dwelling carnivore known for its ferocity and audacity, to the Endangered Species Act list. With less than 300 wolverines existing in the wild in the lower 48 states, scientists fear that climate change could push them over the brink if actions are not taken to protect them and their dwindling habitat.

The Mountain Devil

Much like its movie and comic book counterparts, the wolverine is known for being a badass. Weighing between 26 and 40 pounds, the animal packs a big punch for its small size. They have been seen taking on 300-pound black bears and taking down prey much larger than they are, such as deer, caribou and elk.

Armed with sharp claws, strong jaws and thick, frost-proof hides, wolverines are extremely territorial animals.  And while they are famous for picking fights and having gluttonous eating habits, the reality is that wolverines have simply adapted to the harsh environments in which they live—boreal forests, alpine tundra and the snow-tipped mountains of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington.

Yet, with climate change, these animals face a threat that no amount of badassery can overcome.

Melting Snowpack Puts Wolverines At Risk

Wolverine populations have been steadily declining in the United States for quite some time. Once abundant throughout the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas, unregulated trapping and hunting wiped out most wolverine populations in the United States by the 1930s. Combined with habitat loss and fragmentation, wild wolverine numbers have dwindled to an estimated 250-300 in the lower 48 states today.

Now, wildlife biologists have added a new threat to this list: climate change. Female wolverines need deep snow to create the dens where they birth and rear their young. With spring arriving earlier every year, wolverines are literally watching their denning habitat melt away as a result of climate change.

Endangered Species Act to the Rescue

The good news for wolverines is that the Endangered Species Act provides a safety net for wildlife on the brink of extinction. As a listed threatened species, wolverines are eligible for critical habitat designations and captive breeding and reintroduction programs. In its 40-year history, the Endangered Species Act has helped recover species like the bald eagle and grizzly bear and saved others like the black-footed ferret from disappearing completely.

Right now, the Endangered Species Act is the strongest tool available for helping wolverines survive.

Safeguarding Wildlife in a Warming World

While the best way to help species like wolverines, polar bears, and ringed and bearded seals—all of which have been listed or proposed for listing on account of climate change—is to reduce the carbon pollution driving climate change, other steps must be taken right now to help wildlife cope with the changes already happening where they live.

For wolverines, this means providing the large intact landscapes they need to survive. Making sure that wolverines and other climate change-threatened wildlife have the room they need to roam and keeping it connected is a key principle of what National Wildlife Federation calls climate-smart conservation.

Without these actions, wolverines face a bleak future. And as much fun as it is to watch Wolverine take on Sabertooth in a movie, I for one would much rather know that somewhere, in the wild, is a real wolverine taking on an entire pack of wolves, just because he can.

Take Action ButtonYou can help fight for wolverines and other climate change-threatened wildlife by urging President Obama to limit carbon pollution from coal-burning power plants.