Skeptics dont gnaw at Wally Wolverine
April 6, 2008
Lets call him Wally Wally Wolverine, or W for short because Wallys gender is about all scientists now know about the creature discovered more than a month ago north of Truckee.After some 85 years without hide nor hair of a wolverine in the Sierra Nevada, Ws appearance he was caught on a remote sensor research camera seeking out martens caused quite the stir amongst scientists, wildlife enthusiasts and, apparently, more than a few skeptics.Because consensus among experts was that wolverines were a thing of the past in the Sierra, the chance that a population of the apparently and key word here, unofficially endangered species exists could have far-reaching implications. Land-use decisions by the U.S. Forest Service on things like timber harvesting to recreational activities would have to factor in the effects of those activities on wolverine habitat if the animal were officially deemed endangered.Anyone who sported a bumper sticker on his or her vehicle in the early 90s espousing the use of spotted owls rather than toilet paper made from trees would understandably jump to the conclusion that Ws prime-time debut was a little suspect. After all, the research photo was made public in early March, a few weeks before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was set to review whether wolverines should be placed on the endangered species list.Despite the bomb W dropped on scientists and those who love the forest for, albeit, differing reasons, a couple of photographs does not an endangered species make. W could well be someones furry pampered captive wolverine pup who grew up to be an obstinate 40-pound carnivore. At that point, it would have been time to let W free out in the forest near Truckee.From where W actually hails is he a local or accidental tourist? is a mystery scientists are trying to solve.Meanwhile, another batch of federal officials, this time at Fish and Wildlife, decided mid-March that even though just 500 to 600 wolverines now survive in a few places in the lower 48 states not including California they do not warrant endangered species protections. Thats because, according to Fish and Wildlife, wolverine populations retain strong connections to larger ones in Canada and Alaska and could survive even if they disappeared entirely from the contiguous United States. No doubt there are more than a few people who wouldnt shed a tear if W and his kind disappeared altogether. For their livelihoods, itd just be one less spotted owl-type hurdle for the future.But just as skeptical as those folks may be of W showing up when and where he did, there are others just as critical of an administration accused of tweaking science to meet its ends. Just a few years ago, thousands of members of the Union of Concerned Scientists signed a statement that charged the Bush administration with manipulating scientific advisory committees, altering and suppressing reports by government scientists and misrepresenting scientific knowledge in various areas of study. Meanwhile, W continues obliviously on; skeptics of every stripe be damned.Jamie Bate is the editor of the Sierra Sun. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.