The wolverine: one gnarly dude…who needs our help

Click image for Gulo gulo natural history

Kathleen Stachowski  Other Nations

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the stinkiest, snarliest, gnarliest, wildest of them all? Why, Gulo gulo–the amazing wolverine–of course!

And the gnarly little being needs our help within the next few days (5/6/13 deadline). Unless you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll probably never see a wolverine in your lifetime, at least not outside of a zoo–and that’s a hideous thought for any wild animal, but especially for this wide-ranging, endlessly-moving dynamo. But even so–a mere few minutes to help save the wildest of the wild? A bargain at any price! Read on…  

The First People have a long history with the wolverine on our continent:

In Native American folklore, wolverines most often play the roles of bullies or anti-social trickster characters. Among the Innu people of Labrador and Quebec, Wolverine is a more benign trickster-transformer who shapes the earth and helps the people as well as entertaining them with his socially inappropriate misadventures. The Alaskan Athabaskans admire wolverines for their strength and tenacity…in some tribes of Northern California, wolverines are considered lucky animals– they feature in legends as successful gamblers, and seeing a wolverine is a sign of good fortune to come. ~Native Languages of the Americas

Nat’l Park Svc photo

Fearless, tenacious, and always on the go, the “skunk bear” is the largest land-dwelling member of the weasel family. Their extremely low population densities make them vulnerable to external pressures like trapping and habitat fragmentation, and, indeed, humans hold the top spot for wolverine predation, according to The Wolverine Foundation. You can’t do better than to watch their three-minute video, “The Need to Move“–gorgeous scenery, fantastic wolverine shots, and the lowdown from a top researcher. Watch it and you’ll be ready to go to bat for this wild one.

Wolverines were caught up in predator eradication programs and fell upon hard times in the first half of the 20th century: “To the best of our knowledge, wolverines were pushed back and pretty much extirpated in the contiguous US due to a combination of trapping and, perhaps more devastatingly, poison-baiting intended for other carnivores (primarily wolves)…” (Wolverine Blog).

The Northern Rockies continue to host small pockets of populations; Montana’s has been the subject of intense debate given that trapping continues here–the only state in the lower 48 to allow it. I’ve heard tell that trappers consider the wolverine their “Holy Grail,” and the state management agency stands firmly with trappers–a minute fraction of all Montana citizens (see “Montana will oppose protections for wolverines“).

The real game-changer for wolverines

Though a scrappy, 40-pound wolverine might challenge a grizzly bear for scavenging rights at the Carrion Cafe, there’s one thing wolverines can’t take on: Climate change. Cold temperatures and deep snow aren’t preferences–they’re species requirements. Babies (called kits) are born in birthing dens buried deep in snow–persistent, stable snow greater than five feet deep for security and insulation and lasting well into April and May (source). If Glacier National Park’s glaciers are doomed (video)–some say gone by 2020!–what’s to become of the wolverine? This is where you and I come in.

COMMENT DEADLINE: Monday, May 6, 2013 at 11:59 pm ET

Click here; you’ll find a short summary of the issue–well worth the minute it takes to read. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposes listing the wolverine as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in the contiguous United States, thereby protecting the species and its diminishing habitat. Over to the right on that page, you can check the number of comments received since the 90-day comment period opened. As I write, it’s at 9518, having jumped by several hundred overnight. Add your voice by clicking the “comment now” button. If all you’ve got time for is some variation of “Please list the wolverine as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in the contiguous states,” that’ll do! Click “submit” and you’re done.

Then reward yourself with this 2-1/2 minute video from the author of The Wolverine Way, featuring crazy-beautiful shots of wolverines at work and play in Glacier National Park. Can’t get enough? Here a wolverine takes on an intruding black bear. Guess who wins?!? Want more? Wolverine vs. wolf…wow, check out the headlocks! Betcha can’t guess who walks away with a bloody nose!

If, by now, you’ve been bitten by gulomania, welcome to the club! Supporting ESA listing for this bodacious brawler is the most important thing you’ll do today, and if wolverines were known to display genteel manners, maybe they’d roar their thanks your way.

Then again, maybe they’d just as soon rassle you into a headlock.
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Also: The Wolverine Foundation’s kids page; map of worldwide wolverine distribution; “Whither the wolverine” at Counterpunch

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4 Responses

  1. The population of wolverines is dwindling, that of raccoons, burgeoning. Therefore, goes the conservationist’s thinking, made up in equal parts of neo-romantic sentiment and unexamined premises, a wolverine’s life has greater moral significance than that of a raccoon.

    This view made its own kind of sense when people believed in a divine ‘great chain of being’, which glorified nature’s plenitude as a reflection of god’s infinity. Interstingly, although its theological underpinning was long ago reduced to a quaint historical relic, the abundance-is-good attitude has not only survived but emerged as the governing principle of modern environmentalism. But as Thatcher might have said, if she’d even given the problem any thought, there are no such things as species, only individual animals (with individual interests). The idea that the survival of a species (as against the interests of the individuals) is a pressing moral concern is just bizarre. Yes, it’s one ‘unique’ manifestation of ‘nature’, but nature, human sentiments aside, is just a bunch of rocks, water and a riot of protoplasm differentiated into mutually warring organisms under the impact of blind environmental pressures. Big deal. To say that something should be preserved because it comes from the hand of nature is like saying that something should be preserved because it comes out of an old shoe.

    (Question for conservationists: If biodiversity is an intrinsic good, would our (hypothetical) transhuman descendants be called upon to create vastly greater diversity by engendering more and more species, simulated or otherwise? I, for one, shudder at the thought. Nothing, absolutely nothing–not factory farming, bile-farming, product testing etc–has horrified me more than considering the ‘simulation argument’, which opens up the vista of ceaselessly proliferating realms of sentience. But on conservationsim, this ghastliest of dystopias becomes a thing of utopian beauty.)

  2. Your blog post, Kathleen, has transformed me from a Gulo gulo ignoramus into an enraptured Gulo gulo advocate. I’m humbled by the intensity with which the wolverine lives his life, whether he’s untiringly climbing steep cliffs by leaps and bounds, determinedly tugging at a rope tied to a tree, or blissfully romping through the snow and rolling down snowbanks.

    That some humans believe they have the moral right to kill these beautiful beasts — whether the wolverine’s population is threatened or thriving — is just beyond me. Cultural tradition: an excuse. Human exceptionalism: an excuse. Religious creed: an excuse. Livelihood: an excuse. Protein deficiency: an excuse. Weekend sport: an excuse.

    Considering that we pride ourselves on being the superior species, infused with the ethical ability to restrain selfish passions and appetites, I think any and all of these excuses constitute the sin of self-justification, which should be the eighth deadly!

    Trapping wolverines may be legal in Montana, but it’s immoral. Immoral because pitiless. Our hearts, heads, and hands are designed to reach out in friendship to all other beings on earth. We’re meant to romp and roll in spirit with the wolverines — watching in awe as they joyfully tumble down the snowy slopes, with nary a trap snapping an end to their carefree play, their liberty and their lives.

  3. Wolverines are wicked bad (in a good way). I would love an opportunity to see one in the wild. Any creature that can cow a grizzly bear has my respect.

  4. Oh no! I would be late reading a time-sensitive urging for these wolverines. I never knew much about wolverines before… But now I can see how badly they need a break. So sorry this time, I couldn’t be that voice for them.

    I hope it’s okay that I still “rewarded” myself with the amazing videos… I watch (with guilt) in what I should have had a part in saving. :/ Please keep us updated as to their fate and protection on the Endangered List. It would be horrible to harm such amazing creatures.

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