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Protecting Wolverines in Castle Special Place

New research finds that the Castle Special Place offers U.S. wolverines a key linkage to larger populations to the north.

June 5, 2014

Canmore, AB - The Castle Special Place and other parts of southern Alberta are “crucial” to the survival of threatened American wolverine populations, according to new research.

Over the winter of 2013/14, Canadian biologists looked for wolverines in southwest Alberta, from Highway 3 in the Crowsnest Pass south to Waterton Lakes National Park and the Canada-U.S. border.

Researchers used non-invasive methods such as camera and hair traps to obtain information that will lead to understanding wolverine movements, population numbers, habitat selection, and genetic diversity.

Preliminary findings suggest that wolverine numbers on public lands in southwest Alberta, including the Castle River watershed, are substantially lower than those in the protected national park complexes to north (Banff, Kootenay, and Yoho) and south (Waterton Lakes and Glacier).

The implication of these preliminary findings is that the Castle and surrounding lands are important for linking populations to the north and south and for maintaining the health of wolverines in the larger landscape, including the U.S.,” says Karsten Heuer, President of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y). “It’s another reason why the entire Castle should be fully protected as a Wildland Park.”

Only 250-300 wolverines remain in the continental U.S. In August 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide whether or not to grant wolverines Endangered Species protection.

Alberta’s wolverines are listed as a species of Special Concern under the federal Species at Risk Act.

Canmore-based Dr. Tony Clevenger, a biologist at Montana State University’s Western Transportation Institute, who oversees the three-year research program, said wolverines were detected at only three of the 20 study sites in ornear the Castle/Waterton area.

“The Castle Special Place and Waterton appear to be important landscapes for trans-boundary and regional-scale wolverine conservation,” says Clevenger.

“We risk losing wolverines in Alberta if we fail to
protect wildlife corridors across public lands in the
Castle and elsewhere in the South Saskatchewan region,” says Heuer. In turn, that will have grave consequences for threatened wolverine populations in the U.S.”

Among other recommendations for the final South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP), due to be released in the next month, Y2Y is calling for full protection for the Castle Special Place as a Wildland Park and a Wildlife Corridor land-use designation to allow wide-ranging species like wolverineto move freely from one protected area to another.

“We have a golden opportunity to help restore
at-risk wolverine populations in both western Canada and the U.S., by making sure that the final SSRP protects key wolverine habitat in the Castle and elsewhere in southwest Alberta,”
says Heuer.