The wolverine is an icon of some of North America's wildest landscapes, with Arctic Alaska and northern Canada serving as key strongholds. Not surprisingly, this means the wolverine is built to withstand challenging environments, with feet large enough to act like snowshoes floating over snow and thick frost-resistant fur. To persist in these extreme areas, the wolverine covers huge territories to secure enough food to thrive through the seasons. Sometimes wolverines cache their food for sustenance in the winter—many of the prey species that are available in summer will migrate away or hibernate come winter.
In the past, wolverine populations were threatened by direct sources of mortality, including the fur-trade industry and widespread use of poison to reduce predators in which the loss of wolverines was an unintended consequence. As a result, wolverines disappeared from more than 50% of their historic range.
Though these direct threats have subsided, others have risen in its place and are exacerbated by wolverines' low reproductive rate and vast territory requirements. Today, much of their more southerly habitats are being fragmented due to an expanding human footprint and the associated road networks that come with it. Furthermore, the changing climate is expected to alter the availability of the spring snow cover, which wolverines rely on for denning, caching food, and raising their kits.
Information about wolverines is surprisingly sparse, constraining our ability to understand and respond to development or climate risks to this species. WCS is working in multiple areas to improve our knowledge of how wolverines use their vast home ranges to help design measures that support healthy populations across their ranges.
Our goal is a productive wolverine population across their range in North America.
Strategies to help achieve our goal include:
- Building the knowledge about wolverine ecology that is necessary to implement effective conservation interventions.
- Exploring the potential impacts of future development and climate change trajectories on wolverine distribution and relative abundance.
- Working with hunters and trappers to understand local practices and their needs for wolverine products, in an attempt to adjust their practices to reduce incidental mortality, and the improve health of the wolverines they are catching.
- Conducting aerial surveys of wolverine habitat in the Northern Rockies, Ontario and Alaska to increase our understanding of population dynamics and habitat use in these remote areas and monitoring population trends in the Western U.S. using remote cameras, in collaboration with partners.
- Assessing the diet and physiological health of wolverines in different regions.
- Raising public awareness of this icon of wilderness and their conservation needs.
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