Wildlife officials are taking another look at bringing wolverines back to Colorado.
State Division of Wildlife officials had discussed reintroducing wolverines in 1999, when they drew up plans to do the same with lynx years ago, but started with the lynx.
When a wolverine wandered into the state last year from Wyoming, it was the first one documented in Colorado since 1919. That wolverine's survival, coupled with a successful lynx reintroduction program, prompted Colorado officials to dust off their plans for wolverines, Division of Wildlife Director Tom Remington said.
On Monday, the Fish and Wildlife Service said the threat of climate change has made wolverines a candidate for federal protection, because warmer winters have reduced the late spring snow that the cold-loving, dark-furred creatures need to den and reproduce.
Remington said the Fish and Wildlife Service decision adds impetus to Colorado's reasons for bringing wolverines back to the state.
"Colorado, because of our altitude, could likely serve as a refuge for wolverines. Our snow is likely to hang in there longer. It makes our reintroduction effort more important to the recovery of the species," Remington said.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife biologist Shawn Sartorius said it's not clear yet that Colorado would be a perfect place to put wolverines but that it could be a good candidate.
"Biologically, the most important thing is whether habitat exists and in large enough quantities that can support wolverines," Sartorius said.
The Colorado Wildlife Commission would have to approve any reintroduction plan. Remington doesn't expect any wolverines to arrive here before 2012.
So far, the Colorado Division of Wildlife has been meeting with stakeholders — including recreationists, environmentalists, cattlemen and ski areas — who could be affected if wolverines are released on high-altitude public land.
The goal is to draft a voluntary agreement for how to manage the species if they are released, to avoid potential conflicts, Remington said.
Reintroducing wolverines could cost somewhere around $1 million to $1.5 million over 10 years, which are costs that Remington has repeatedly said his division can't cover. That would shift funding to federal dollars or private donations, with the division providing in-kind support.
"If we can address all the potential conflicts with federal land use, the money will come," Remington said.