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COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the wolverine Gulo gulo in Canada

Distribution

Global Range

The wolverine is a holarctic species that ranges across North America and Eurasia, occupying Canada, United States, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Russian Federation and Mongolia (Hilton-Taylor 2000).

Wolverine range in the contiguous United States has declined with human settlement since the mid-19th century. It has been extirpated from most of its range in the northeast, Great Lakes states and high plains where it occurred at low densities and where the range limits were uncertain (deVos 1964, Hamilton and Fox 1987, Wilson 1982, Predator Conservation Alliance 2001; Figure 2). Populations in the western states have suffered fragmentation and declines (Banci 1994). They may have ranged as far south as Arizona and New Mexico; however, tenuous populations currently inhabit only montane regions in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, western Montana, Wyoming and Colorado (Banci 1994). Remnant populations also exist in the southern Rockies (Colorado; Kahn and Byrne 1998) and, possibly, Michigan and Maine.


Figure 2: North American Distribution of Gulo gulo

Figure 2. North American distribution of Gulo gulo. 

Adapted from Hash (1987), Johnson (1990), and Fortin et al. (2002), and modified from Berezanski (pers. com., 2002), Carrière (pers. com., 2002), Dawson (pers. com., 2002), Kosinski (pers. com., 2002), Popko (pers. com., 2002), Jessup (pers. com., 2003), Magoun (pers. com., 2003), and Mulders (pers. com., 2003).

The historic range of wolverines in North America typically described in the literature (e.g., Kelsall 1981) was compiled from anecdotal evidence such as personal accounts and the interpretation of fur returns, which are often tied to socio-economic factors and not furbearer populations at the source of the data collection. Fur trade companies such as Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company traded over large areas which encompassed several of today’s jurisdictions (Novak et al. 1987, Obbard et al. 1987). It is doubtful whether viable populations ever occurred in the Prairie or Great Lakes Plains ecological areas, yet these areas are commonly indicated as historic wolverine range. None of the areas from which the species has been presumably extirpated ever produced significant numbers of wolverine pelts. Furthermore, the aspen parkland bordering the prairies and other habitats on the edge of the wolverine’s present range (Figure 2) may have represented population sinks rather than reservoirs. There have been few studies of wolverines in North America and the extent of the animal’s historic distribution remains unknown.


Canadian Range

The current Canadian range of the wolverine (Figure 3) includes all COSEWIC ecological areas (Boreal, Arctic, Northern Mountain, Southern Mountain and Pacific) except Atlantic, Prairie and Great Lakes Plains. Wolverines historically never occurred in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, the Queen Charlotte Islands, and some islands of the northwestern Arctic Archipelago in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut (Dauphiné 1989). Arctic islands supporting wolverine include Victoria, Stefansson, Prince of Wales, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, Amund Ringnes, Ellesmere, Baffin, Bylot, Southampton, Coates, and Mansel (Carrière, pers. com., 2002). Wolverines occur on at least two Pacific islands, Vancouver (if extant) and Pitt (MacLeod 1950).


Figure 3: Canadian Distribution of Gulo gulo

Figure 3: Canadian distribution of Gulo gulo. 

Adapted from Hash (1987), Johnson (1990), and Fortin et al. (2002), and modified from Berezanski (pers. com., 2002), Carrière (pers. com., 2002), Dawson (pers. com., 2002),  Kosinski (pers. com., 2002), Popko (pers. com., 2002), Jessup (pers. com., 2003), Magoun (pers. com., 2003), and Mulders (pers. com., 2003).

Range reductions began in the mid-19th century, where it was extirpated in New Brunswick, and from much of Boreal Ontario, Quebec and Labrador, and in the aspen parkland of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta (Dauphiné 1989).