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Western wolverines threatened by climate change


Wolverines in the continental United States could be wiped out by the end of the century if temperatures continue to rise, according to a new study from a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Springtime snow cover helps protect wolverine dens from predators, and the animal is built to thrive in deep powder. But, Synte Peacock, a NCAR scientist, applied computer models projecting climate change to the wolverine habitat in the northern Rockies. Under two of the three projected levels of severity of global warming, Peacock found that springtime snow cover will largely vanish in wolverine habitat by the second half of the century.

Similarly, Peacock found that summertime temperatures will skyrocket. Currently, the average August temperature in wolverine habitat is 72 degrees. That could rise to above 90 degrees by century's end, according to the more pessimistic models.

“Species that depend on snow cover for their survival are likely to be very vulnerable to climate change,” Peacock said. “It’s highly uncertain whether wolverines will continue to survive in the Lower 48, given the changes that are likely to take place there.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last year said that climate change was enough of a threat to wolverines' viability that they deserved endangered species protection.

Wolverines inhabit a large area of boreal forests that includes Canada and northern Asia. Peacock's model was only applied to the continental U.S. habitat, but she noted that there are similar concerns about warming temperatures in other countries' wolverine habitats.

-- Nicholas Riccardi

Photo: The thick-furred wolverine is built for the snow and is highly vulnerable to climate change. Credit: Vince Maidens under Creative Commons License

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Wolverines are indicator species .The northern continental United States is the southern most limit of it's range today.But one has recently been photographed in the northern Sierra Mountains of northern California.As climate fluctuates historically its home range will do the same in a north-south direction.It is a magnificent example of a top level predator and a healthy eco-system.There is no hunting season that i know of and if there is a trapping season still it is in Montana,with a state wide limit of one to three animals per year.I am sure more are killed by automobiles ,wolves, bears, and other wolverines every year than are trapped in a decade.They deserve the protection today that most people think wolves deserve.They are two different animals and two different situations.Both are being managed wisely,and the de-listing of the wolf will help this magnificent example of a truly wild predator.

I've studied clamate change for 30 years and although I would like to see global warming halted, I doubt that we can do it. Ocean acidification, however, is a potentially much worse problem than climate change, it could destroy the entire marine ecosystem. We can absolutely solve that problem by drastically reducing our CO2 emissions.

Picture current wolverine habitat as a series of separated islands. They live at altitude in the lower 48 and as temperatures rise higher up each mountain the habitat becomes smaller then doesn't exist. How in the heck declaring wolverines endangered is going to stop that I've no idea.

Throw out the endangered species act and start a massive program to convert from burning carbon.

I'm not arguing with climate change.

I will suggest that scientists are often unclear about animal habitats. I saw one a month ago in lower Michigan, a place they've been "extinct" for a long time. They aren't an animal you can easily mistake for something else, and it was broad daylight. He crossed the county road ahead of me: I slowed and then stopped my car to watch him run down a lane.

On research I found Michigan accounts of one photographed by a well respected naturalist, and a dead one found a few months later. Animal control - with scientific sponsors - proclaimed that "one must have come across the ice from Canada, and now it's dead." A year later a high school teacher made track castings and finally photographed one with a trap camera in the same area. Animal control employee anonymously stated that they didn't want to cover the reports because it would "create a lot of work if they find them." My guess is that there is a small population - the one I saw was about 250 miles from the documented location, and the reports were in 2004 and 2005. Wolverines have territories of as much as 230 miles. If there is a population there, it would be unsurprising if one or more would be seen 250 miles away, 5 years later.

I was completely shocked/disbelieving when I saw it, but I knew immediately it was the same fellow as in the photo here.


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