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Province reviewing new information, studies on wolverines

“In 2022, Environment and Parks will be reviewing new information and data available on wolverine to determine if an updated status evaluation should be conducted.”
Wolverine
PHOTO COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF VICTORIA AND ALBERTA ENVIRONMENT AND PARKS

KANANASKIS – The province of Alberta will be reviewing new information and data on wolverines this year to determine if an updated status evaluation is warranted.

A spokesperson for Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) said the ministry asked Alberta Conservation Association to prepare a state of knowledge report on wolverines in 2020, which included a literature review, density estimate and gap analysis.

Jason Penner, a communications advisor for AEP, said the department identifies species that may require a detailed status assessment or re-assessment on an ongoing basis.

“Species are prioritized for detailed status assessment based on conservation urgency and availability of information,” he said in an email.

“In 2022, Environment and Parks will be reviewing new information and data available on wolverine to determine if an updated status evaluation should be conducted.”

Currently, the wolverine is considered ‘data deficient’ under Alberta’s Wildlife Act. The last provincial status assessment was done in 2000, which was based on information available in the late 1990s.

Since that time, there have been several wolverine studies within Alberta to attempt to better understand the ecology of this evasive species.

Naturally occurring in low numbers, wolverines have low reproductive rates and need vast interconnected blocks of wilderness to survive.

However, studies have shown that wolverine range and populations have shrunk dramatically over the last century, primarily due to trapping as well as habitat loss and fragmentation from industrial development such as oil and gas.

The Alberta Conservation Association’s 2020 state of knowledge report on wolverine indicates much more information is now available that will be useful for an updated status assessment.

That includes information on abundance estimates for some regions of the province, areas of occupancy and occurrence, habitat ecology, and response to changes in the environment caused by humans.

“However, the data on population size within the province remains limited,” states the report. “Some extrapolation techniques might allow for coarse estimates at the provincial level, but there are limitations to these options.”

A study conducted by Alberta Environment and Parks, University of Victoria and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society released in January suggests industrial disturbances along the eastern slopes of the Rockies are playing a role in the decline of wolverine numbers and distribution.

Titled "Landscape change shifts competitive dynamics between declining at-risk wolverines and range-expanding coyotes, compelling a new conservation focus",  it was published in Biological Conservation’s February 2022 issue.

The research revealed that industrial linear features, like roads and seismic lines used for oil and gas exploration, drive competition between wolverines and coyotes, and as roads and seismic lines increased in density, wolverines and coyotes were three times more likely to co-occur.

Gillian Chow-Fraser, the lead researcher for the study, called for a status reassessment of wolverines.

“That assessment was done over 20 years ago and since then we know they are doing quite poorly in the Rockies,” she said.

“It would be responsible wildlife management to re-assess at this point. They are facing a threat, they’re in decline, and we have a pretty good understanding of what those threats are.”