100 Years Ago, the Last Wolverine Vanished From the Rockies. Now, It May Be Coming Home.

shallow focus photo of brown animal

“Wolverine restoration in the West.


NOTE: this article was originally published to Popular Mechanics’ Apple News Channel on March 17, 2023. It was written by Tim Newcomb.


Legislators and scientists are offering a beacon of hope for the missing alpine predator.


Colorado lawmakers have a bipartisan bill set to reintroduce North American wolverines to alpine areas.

The wolverine hasn’t been seen living wild in the Colorado since the early 1900s, thanks to humans trapping and poisoning the animals. 

Conservationists say bringing the wolverine back to the alpine habitat of Colorado will give the animals the best opportunity for long-term survival. 

One hundred years ago, the North American wolverine was considered a nuisance to those trying to make their homes in the American West. The trapping, poisoning, and outright killing of the animal nearly wiped it from the United States altogether—the efforts certainly erased the wolverine from Colorado. 

Now, lawmakers and conservationists hope to bring it back to the state. 

A bipartisan bill now under consideration by the Colorado legislature would authorize the reintroduction of the North American wolverine to the state under the direction of the parks and wildlife division. 

“Wolverines are one of the last species that historically called Colorado home that have yet to be restored,” said Megan Mueller, conservation biologist for Rocky Mountain Wild, according to 9 News. “Bringing wolverines back to Colorado is the best way to give them a chance to survive as the climate changes.” 

Under the proposal, the threatened species—as listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in November under the Endangered Species Act—would be reintroduced to the high alpine habitats of Colorado, as the cold and snowy climate of the area could help the animal survive longer. With seven million suitable acres and the largest unoccupied habitat for wolverines in the lower 48 states, according to Rocky Mountain Wild, Colorado could give the animal a long-term home. 

As the wolverine continues to risk depopulation in the U.S.—having dropped to an estimated 400 total animals in the contiguous 48 states—proponents of the Colorado plan believe the state offers the opportunity to support approximately 100 animals, which would be a healthy boost for the population.

The last confirmed record of a Colorado-based wolverine is from 1919. The most recently confirmed wolverine in Colorado at all was a passerby in 2009. The male was believed to have traveled from the Tetons in Wyoming through central Colorado on his way to North Dakota. He was shot there.

Seeing a male wander across states isn’t uncommon—the reintroduced populations in Washington, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming have led to sightings of the animal in Oregon, Utah, and California. But proponents of the reintroduction plan say they need to relocate female wolverines into Colorado as well, because research shows that females tend not to travel far from their home area, especially if it requires crossing a highway. 

But getting the wolverine back into Colorado still requires jumping over some hurdles—both logistical and legal ones. For example, to make the reintroduction happen, crews would need to trap animals in Alaska and bring them to Colorado. And on the legal side, the proposed bill needed to have provisions that ensure ski areas, for example, can continue operating even if wolverines return, and that the parks and wildlife commission must adopt compensation rules for livestock loss caused by a wolverine. Making this all happen requires Colorado to classify the wolverine as a non-essential, experimental population.

Even if the bill passes the legislature, there could be years of haggling over the particulars of the plan before the wolverine makes an official return to Colorado. For now, though, the wolverine efforts are moving forward. 

“I think,” Jake Ivan, a wildlife research scientist with Colorado parks and wildlife, told The Guardian, “it gives us the best chance of restoring the population to Colorado.”


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