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Colorado's Lonely Wolverine

Photo: Only one wolverine lives in Colorado, but the state is considering potentially reintroducing the creature to the state. Courtsey: USFS.
Photo: Only one wolverine lives in Colorado, but the state is considering potentially reintroducing the creature to the state. Courtsey: USFS.
April 1, 2013

ESTES PARK, Colo. - It's a lonely life for Colorado's only wolverine. The male animal, known as M-56, made his way to the Centennial State in 2009 from the Grand Tetons. The last previously-known wolverine in Colorado disappeared in 1919. And wildlife experts say it may be time for M-56 to have some companionship. They're considering officially reintroducing the creature to the state.

According to Eric Odell, species conservation project manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the wolverine, largest member of the weasel family, vanished from the state because of poisoned food used in large-scale predator control efforts in the early 1900s aimed at mountain lions, coyotes, and wolves.

"They were very susceptible to the predator control efforts even though they weren't the primary target of it," Odell remarked. "We don't think that they would be a major threat to any kind of wildlife populations or livestock populations."

Odell said wolverines are scavengers that eat just about anything and rarely hunt for food. They're also solitary creatures that live in rugged alpine territory such as Rocky Mountain National Park, where M-56 was discovered.

John Gale, regional representative with the National Wildlife Federation, said the reintroduction could follow the pattern of the lynx, which was returned to Colorado nearly 15 years ago, introduced in a way that also allowed for other land uses.

"These are the stepping stones for what will become Colorado having wolverines again," Gale remarked. "If we could have a population in Colorado and M-56 merged with them, we brought him into a family he didn't have before."

Eric Odell said his office wants to make sure that wolverines and humans can coexist before any reintroduction occurs.

"We're not going to do this if we can't address the social and political and economic concerns," he cautioned. "This is an animal that is native to the state and might be able to do well here."

There are only about 300 wolverines total in the lower 48 states and wildlife experts say climate change is threatening the alpine habitat they call home.

The National Wildlife Federation offers a free presentation tonight about the possible effect of wolverine reintroduction to Colorado. It begins at 6:30 at REI, 1789 28th Street, Boulder.

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO