No matter how you slice it, wolverines are badasses. They live in the northernmost regions of the world, remote, forbidding climates that test even the most rugged of humans. They will summit a sheer mountain slope for no discernible reason, and, with a size clocking in at about three feet of pure explosive resolve, will drive a grizzly bear from a meal. They are one of the toughest species ever spit from the mouth of God. And sadly, says Douglas Chadwick, author of The Wolverine Way, their numbers are dwindling; there are only about 300 of them left south of Canada.
Yeah, you heard that number correctly: 300. "Well, no more than 500," says Chadwick, "and possibly half that many. That's why I'm out here doing all this arm-waving."
Chadwick is a wildlife biologist up near Glacier National Park in Northwest Montana, which sports the "single densest population of wolverines in the lower 48," though he adds that "that's not saying much.
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"I used to study mountain goats," he continues, "so when I heard about this wolverine radio-tracking study, I thought, well I'd like to go out and learn something about these guys." That was only going to be for a couple of months, but Chadwick ended up falling in love with the burly creatures, and the months turned into years -- five years, to be exact.
"I had no idea wolverines were so cool," he raves. "They've always been one of these creatures that people don't really know about. They'll point to a marmot or something and say, 'well, is that a wolverine?' or they have this image of Wolverines as Tasmanian devils on crack or something. So we've got a long way to go to let people know about the most badass animals in our wildlife community. And so that's why I'm trying to spread the word -- because they're going to need some help if we're going to take them with us into the future."
Specifically what's threatening the wolverine, as is the case with so many of the mammals of the rugged north, is climate change; wolverines live in the serious, serious snow, and a lot of that snow is disappearing. As Chadwick points out, there were 150 glaciers in Glacier National Park when it was founded 100 years ago this year; the current projection is, the last of those glaciers will melt in around fifteen years from now. To add to that problem, wolverines are an extremely low-density population -- the lowest of any other mammal, in fact. "So you can't just cram them into some reserve and expect to have a viable population," Chadwick says.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service is scheduled to make a decision next month as to whether or not to make the wolverine a protected species -- but in the meantime, you can hear Chadwick talk about wolverines (and his book about them, which you are of course invited to buy) tonight at 6 p.m. at the Mercury Cafe. It's free to attend, and copies of The Wolverine Way are currently selling for around $20.