13 June 2020

[Note: Obviously, wolverines wouldn’t be speaking English, but my computer doesn’t have the necessary keys to do a precise rendering. This is a rough translation.]

*  *  *

   At the annual Wolverine Convention – being held this year in Banff National Park, Canada – three wolverines got together for a late night chat. One was from Alaska, one from Idaho, and the last was from eastern Oregon.

   “Boy, this is the most wolverines I’ve seen in a long time,” said Oregon.

   “Well, we are a solitary species,” said Alaska, “known to be ‘lone wolves,’ if I can metaphorically mix my Mammalia. Conventions only come once a year.” 

   “We sure are loners,” chimed in Idaho. “Sometimes I can wander for a week without crossing the path of another of our kind.”

   “No, it’s not that. I haven’t seen any other wolverine since I wandered into Oregon five years ago.”


   “Not a one, the reason being that I think I’m the only one in the entire State. When I was growing up, I heard some of the old-timers talk about our ancestors living in Oregon, and even down into California, but that was long before I was born, and maybe even before those old gray- beards came on the scene.”

   They pondered that in silence for a few moments. Then, something clicked in Idaho’s brain. “You said you ‘wandered into Oregon.’ Where was it that you wandered from?”

   “Well, from Idaho, of course; the nearest wolverine population.”

   “I thought I recognized you! Well, not really, because all of us wolverines look pretty much alike, but you do have an ‘Idaho look’ to you.”

   Alaska snorted. “You also have an ‘Alaska look,’ and I suspect you have a ‘Montana look’ and even a ‘Siberia look’.” I understand that there’s not enough difference between us to even warrant designating us as subspecies.”

   “What’s a subspecies?” Oregon and Idaho asked, in unison.

   “Well, we’re a species – a certain kind of animal. If those of us from different parts of the world – you, me, Siberia – could be told apart from one another, then the human biologists would say we were subspecies.”

   “And you know this, because…?” queried Oregon.

   “Well, I hear things.”

   “You hear things?

   “Yeah. Those biologists are always trying to trap us to take blood, or put collars or radio transmitters on us – pretty humiliating, by the way – and they talk about stuff, and I listen.”

   “That’s true,” added Idaho. “They’re after us all the time, I think especially now because some other group of humans think we’re endangered, and want to pass a law to save us.”

   “That’s not quite right,” said Alaska. “There’s already a law – the Endangered Species Act – and they don’t think you’re endangered; they think you’re threatened. One group of humans is trying to sue another group because the other group won’t make the declaration.”

   Wolverines have a surly side, and Idaho was a little miffed at being corrected. “So, smarty pants, what’s the difference between endangered and threatened, and why do you say it’s about us, and not about you?”

   “They don’t care about me. I’ve got relatives all over Alaska and parts of Canada. You won’t see a lot of us together – except at annual conventions – but we’re everywhere. No, they’re concerned about what they call ‘remnant populations’ that are either endangered – nearly extinct – or threatened, meaning in danger of become endangered.”

   Oregon had been listening intently. “So, say you’re right. Why are they worried about me? I’m not a ‘remnant population’ – hell, I’m not even a population. I’m just a lone wolverine who wandered across the State line. I’m not threatened by anything that I know of; I go months without seeing a human, and even longer between humans seeing me. I guess I am endangered, if you want to think of it that way, but it’s by the March of Time. I’m getting old, and I can’t make baby wolverines on my own. I don’t need a law; I need a mate. To borrow some sentiment and some words from “The Flower Drum Song”. (By the way: Nancy Kwan was no wolverine, but she was pretty hot for her species!) – I hope my future will be in the home of some brave and free female (wolverine) who enjoys being a girl (wolverine) having a boy (wolverine) like me.”

   “The Flower Drum Song?” Alaska rolled his eyes.

   “So I like show tunes,” snarled Oregon. “You want to make something of it?”

   There might have been a scuffle if Idaho hadn’t interrupted. “So, they don’t care about you, Alaska, and Oregon isn’t a population, he’s a pioneer. So, this law is about me? What am I being protected from, and how will a new law help me?”

   Oregon and Alaska continued to glare at one another, but the danger of a real altercation seemed to have passed.

   “Okay, from what I’ve heard…” Alaska growled, before they could say anything. “Yes, what I heard is that you’re being threatened by winter sports and global warming. You’re disturbed by backcountry skiers and by snowmobiles, and you need deep snow to survive.”

   Idaho shook his head in apparent amazement. “Who is saying this? Do they know where I live? I go weeks without seeing a human – months, during the winter - except the ones trying to capture me to take my blood. I know about skiing, but I’ve never seen a skier in the high country where I winter. I’m not sure I know what a snowmobile is. Why do they think I’m being threatened?”

   Alaska shook his furry head. “Hey, I’m just saying what I heard.”

*  *  *

   Next morning, they had two speakers: one on the Endangered Species Act, and one on climate change. Both wolverines seemed knowledgeable on their subject, but  - considering they are wolverines, not humans, and are the “lone wolves” of the animal world - where they got their information was unclear. In any event, it gave our three wolverines plenty to talk about over lunch. Oregon led off the discussion.

   “So, as I see it, Idaho and I would be covered by the Endangered Species Act but you, Alaska, wouldn’t be. This coverage would only occur after a long, legal process that would eventually result in us being considered ‘threatened.’ After that, assuming we really need protection, the law would protect us… How, exactly?

   “Well, here’s the thing,” began Alaska. “Since you’d only be threatened, not endangered, any problems you had would have to be super serious to give you priority over all the endangered species. Probably the only thing that would be considered that serious would be something that was actually killing wolverines. Nobody kills wolverines legally south of Canada, except in Montana where they allow some trapping. Idaho hasn’t allowed hunting or trapping since 1965, and Montana trappers only kill about ten of us a year – obviously not nice for the individual wolverines, but the Montana population as a whole is not decreasing, and the human biologists seem to think that the numbers of males and females are well-balanced, as is the ratio of young wolverines to us old guys. The Feds might try to get Montana to outlaw trapping, which would be good for the potential victims, but probably wouldn’t change the status of the population.”

   “So, what about this so-called threat to us from winter sports?” asked Idaho. “Does the Act help us?”

   “Candidly, I don’t see how. Much of the area where you live – or could live – is in national parks or wilderness areas, where snowmobiles are already prohibited. Most of the rest is in national forests where the Forest Service could already restrict use if they felt it was necessary. Each of us covers so much ground just in our daily travels, let alone our annual peregrinations, that there’s no possible way that anybody could guess ahead of time what spot might be really important to one of us.

   Oregon had been quietly listening, but now he spoke. “I don’t get it! From what was said this morning, us wolverines were gone – or nearly so – from Idaho and Montana in 1900, yet now there are maybe 500 of us. We did it pretty much on our own, probably pioneering from Canada, much the way I went from Idaho to Oregon. The biologists seem to feel that the wolverine habitat in Montana and Idaho is pretty much filled up, and our relatives there seem to be doing just fine. Maybe I’ll die alone in Oregon, or maybe others will follow me. There’s plenty of space for a lot more of us. Either way, I don’t see how the Act helps us. About all it does is officially recognize we might have problems, but everybody who cares knows that, already.”

   “Well,” said Idaho, “There is one thing we haven’t talked about, and that’s climate change. It is true that we need deep snow in which to make our dens and preserve our winter food supplies, and in some years lately, it’s been pretty tough to find that kind of cover.”

   “Yep, also true up in Alaska,” said Alaska, “and the changes are happening even faster than the smartest human scientists were expecting. The latest predictions I hear are that more than 500 species of our mammal cousins could become extinct within 20 years – not all because of global warming, but it’s a significant factor. Over 60 percent of our bird neighbors are in some kind of trouble – again, not all because of climate change, but very important. Worldwide, over a million kinds of animals and plants are supposedly on the verge – yep, a lot because of global warming.”

   “So, what’s being done about it?” asked Oregon.

   Alaska shrugged. (Well, it sort of looked like a shrug, but wolverines are so hairy, who can tell for sure?) “Not a lot. Our human friends don’t seem to be much beyond the ‘view with alarm’ stage. We have a saying up in Alaska: Grandpa Mammoth bellowed while the permafrost melted.”

  “What the hell does that mean?” Idaho and Oregon asked, in unison.

  “Hey, guys, it’s just a saying! If you start to analyze it, it loses a lot of its punch. What it means is that the mammoths just stood around, and did what they always did, while the Pleistocene glaciers were melting, the earth was heating up, and they were losing their habitat. They did nothing to save themselves.”

   “What could they do?”

  “Well, nothing, really. The idea is that if you know something bad is happening, your highest priority should be to solve the problem.”

   “But did the mammoths really know?”

   “All right, you guys, cut it out with the mammoths! What I’m getting at is that humans know about climate change – the evidence is overwhelming. The speaker this morning gave all those potential extinction figures I quoted. Climate change is one of the big reasons. ‘Remnant populations’ – like yours, Idaho – will probably be among the first to go. Yet they are still talking about passing laws to recognize you as being in trouble. Hello, out there! Why are you standing around bellowing while the permafrost is melting around you?”

*  *  *

   That night was the end of the conference, and the final Happy Hour turned into a riotous all-nighter.  Alaska got lost in a crowd of other wolverines that looked just like him, and Idaho went to bed early. Oregon didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to either, as he was trying to talk up some cute females into joining him in Oregon. He didn’t get any takers.

*  *  *

   In later news: A bunch of conservationists sued the government over their failure to list the wolverine as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. They won. The weather got hotter and the snow packs skimpier. Nobody has seen the Oregon wolverine for a couple years.


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