A wolverine has turned up in northern Colorado and was recently photographed in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s been a very long time since a wolverine has prowled this terrain.
It can create quite a stir when species that were regionally extirpated long ago are once again seen in their former haunts, especially when they show up without benefit of human assistance. Such was the case, for example, when a lynx was photographed in Yellowstone National Park in November 2007..
We’d like to think that our national parks could once again have their full complement of native species, so there’s an extra measure of satisfaction when a species shows up of its own accord in one of these special places. These events not only provide tangible evidence that we are doing a good job of habitat preservation in our national parks, but also serve as touchstones of progress along the way to the restoration of “whole ecosystems.”
Now a wolverine has been photographed in Rocky Mountain National Park, a place where no wolverine has been seen – at least not for certain –since the park was established in 1915. Thanks to this verified sighting, 2009 will now go down in the books as the year that wolverines returned to northern Colorado and to Rocky Mountain National Park. Well, at least one wolverine that we know of.
Where this particular wolverine came from is not a mystery. Earlier this year it was radio-collared for research purposes (the Greater Yellowstone Wolverine Program) in the Yellowstone ecosystem way up in northwestern Wyoming. An adult wolverine like this one would be a compact, muscular animal weighing about 30 to 40 pounds and stretching to about three or four feet in length, tail and all.
This wolverine managed to travel around 500 miles into northern Colorado over a period of several months. Wolverines are fast-moving, notorious wanderers, but they are also reclusive and don’t like to be around people. Even by wolverine standards, this particular journey, which involved crossing Interstate 80 and dealing with numerous other hazards, was an amazing feat.
One of the people who saw the wolverine in the park was a wildlife photographer who managed to get a good picture of it – radio collar and all -- at a place above the treeline not far from the park’s Trail Ridge Road. Hard evidence like this is rare, and wildlife biologists are delighted to have it.
Where this wandering wolverine might turn up next remains anybody’s guess. An even better question is whether there are other wolverines in northern Colorado, and when a breeding population might be established. There’ve been no breeding populations of wolverines anywhere in California, Utah, or the southern Rockies for nearly 80 years.