Wolverine government response statement
Ontario’s policy direction for the protection and recovery of Wolverine.
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Protecting and recovering species at risk in Ontario
Species at risk recovery is a key part of protecting Ontario’s biodiversity. The Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA) is the Government of Ontario’s legislative commitment to protecting and recovering species at risk and their habitats.
Under the ESA, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (the Ministry) must ensure that a recovery strategy is prepared for each species that is listed as endangered or threatened. A recovery strategy provides science-based advice to government on what is required to achieve recovery of a species.
Within nine months after a recovery strategy is prepared, the ESA requires the Ministry to publish a statement summarizing the government’s intended actions and priorities in response to the recovery strategy. The response statement is the government’s policy response to the scientific advice provided in the recovery strategy. In addition to the strategy, the government response statement considered (where available) input from stakeholders, other jurisdictions, Indigenous communities and organizations, and members of the public. It reflects the best available local and scientific knowledge, including Traditional Ecological Knowledge, at this time and may be adapted if new information becomes available. In implementing the actions in the response statement, the ESA allows the Ministry to determine what is feasible, taking into account social and economic factors.
The Recovery Strategy for the Wolverine (Gulo gulo) in Ontario was completed on November 22, 2013. To comprehensively consider and address the complexities associated with the protection and recovery of Wolverine, the Ministry took additional time to prepare this GRS. The Ministry sent invitations to community organizations and Indigenous communities to contribute to the GRS during its development and received feedback from several groups. The Ministry also developed and circulated engagement materials to raise awareness amongst communities within the distribution of Wolverine during the development process. All recommendations provided in the recovery strategy, advice provided by stakeholders and Indigenous communities and organizations, and additional jurisdictional, scientific and economic information were considered in developing this government response statement. This GRS identifies actions that are considered to be appropriate and necessary for the protection and recovery of the species.
The Wolverine (Gulo gulo) is the largest member of the weasel family (Mustelidae) and is a powerful animal with a bushy tail, short legs and large paws with semi-retractable claws. The Wolverine has a large head with a dark brown face, sometimes with a light silvery facial mask, ears that are short and rounded and dark brown fur with pale golden-brown stripes running along the sides of the body. The head-body length of full grown animals ranges from 65 to 87 centimeters with tails between 17 and 26 cm.
Protecting and recovering Wolverine
The Wolverine is listed as a threatened species under the ESA, which protects both the animal and its habitat. The ESA prohibits harm or harassment of the species and damage or destruction of its habitat without authorization. Such authorization would require that conditions established by the Ministry be met.
The Wolverine is found throughout the arctic and subarctic regions and boreal forests of the Northern Hemisphere in Europe, Asia and North America. Historically, Wolverines were distributed across much of Canada but the species' range diminished fairly rapidly during European settlement and the associated land use changes in the 19th century. Today, the Wolverine occurs in all of the provinces from British Columbia to Ontario and all three territories, inhabiting forested areas, alpine tundra of the western mountains and arctic tundra. Wolverine observations have been reported in Québec and Labrador, but no observation has been verified in these provinces since a single individual was trapped in the late 1970s. Wolverines in Canada were previously thought of as two distinct populations, with Ontario at the junction between the eastern and western populations. However, the 2014 COSEWIC reassessment considers Wolverines in Canada as a single population. Recent research has identified genetic similarities between Wolverines found in Ontario and Manitoba.
Prior to European settlement, Wolverines were found throughout much of Ontario, including southern Ontario, but the species was extirpated from much of its historical range in Ontario during the 1800s and early 1900s. Today, the Wolverine is found primarily in the northwest part of Ontario, with recent evidence from aerial surveys and trapper reports suggesting a potential eastward range reoccupation of areas in northeastern Ontario, towards James Bay and Québec.
Modified map of the North American distribution of Wolverine presented in the COSEWIC 2014 Assessment and Status Report on the Wolverine. Data from Joanna Wilson, Species at Risk Biologist, Environmental and Natural Resources, Government of the Northwest Territories, Yellowknife NT.
The Wolverine occurs in low densities, inhabits large home range sizes, and is distributed across a wide, often remote landscape. As a result, it is extremely difficult to determine current provincial population levels. An analysis in 2013 of Ontario Wolverine data roughly estimates the population to be between 458 to 645 individuals. Given the nature of the species and its potential eastward range expansion, individuals may disperse now, or in the future, between Ontario and Manitoba and Ontario and Québec.
The Wolverine is a compact, medium-sized carnivore. Wolverines are solitary creatures that require large home ranges and travel year-round through extreme environments and over very long distances. They act as both scavengers and predators, eating a variety of foods depending on availability. Wolverines primarily scavenge moose and caribou carcasses abandoned by other carnivores, or carcasses resulting from death due to disease or injury. Wolverines do not hibernate and are well-adapted for winter existence. Compared to other large carnivores, Wolverines have a relatively low reproductive potential and as a result, populations can be more susceptible to the loss of individuals.
Wolverines are habitat generalists, occupying both forested and open habitats. In Ontario, they live in boreal and tundra forests and require remoteness from human settlement, persistent snow cover through the denning season, large patches of habitat, and a consistently available food source. Documented dens have included snow-covered boulder piles and downed trees, and snow-tunnels. Denning mothers tend to use areas that provide protection from predators and human disturbance, adequate insulation to buffer the cold winter temperatures and enough prey for rearing kits. Due to the elusive nature of Wolverines and the remote areas they inhabit, very little is known about specific habitat requirements, usage, or den site selection in Ontario.
Given the Wolverine’s solitary nature and the lack of general public knowledge about the species, myths and stories have developed over the years. Wolverines have inspired near mythical tales of their strength, cunningness, ferocity and destruction, which has sometimes led to a negative reputation. Regarded by many as a symbol of the remote wilderness, the Wolverine has also earned names such as "devil bear", "skunk bear", and "glutton".
Wolverine fur is thick, dark and oily, which makes it resistant to frost and matting. The aesthetic beauty and durability of the fur led to its historic popularity among hunters and trappers for use in hats and clothing items, and associated harvest throughout the province. The species is classified as a furbearer under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. The hunting and trapping seasons for Wolverine were closed in 2009, after several years of zero quota assignments, and the harvest of the species prohibited. Wolverines remain vulnerable to trapping activities targeting other mammals across their range in Ontario, despite the closed season on hunting and trapping for the species itself. Wolverine are often attracted to bait, making them susceptible to being accidently caught in traps set for other species. Under the ESA's Ontario Regulation 242/08 section 23.19, individuals are required to report incidental trapping of species at risk, including Wolverine, and to take steps to minimize impacts to the species.
The Wolverine holds significance in some Indigenous cultures and communities. Section 35 of Canada’s Constitution Act, 1982 recognizes and affirms the existing Aboriginal and Treaty rights of Aboriginal peoples, who include the First Nation, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada. Depending on the terms of a particular treaty and the historical evidence, these rights may include harvesting Wolverine for food, social and ceremonial purposes.
The decline in the range and number of Wolverine individuals has been attributed to a number of inter-related factors that include European settlement and land-clearing, habitat fragmentation, resource development activities, reductions in prey species, Wolverine harvest, and climate change. Despite range loss and fragmentation across North America over the past 150 years, there is little detailed and in-depth knowledge linking specific factors to Wolverine decline anywhere. Only in the last few decades has basic ecological information on this species been successfully gathered. The difficulty in gathering Wolverine data continues to pose substantial challenges in understanding the needs of this cryptic species and the degree of specific threats to its protection and recovery in Ontario.
Wolverines rely on large areas of habitat in northern Ontario and as a result, the species is susceptible to changes on the landscape resulting from climate change and habitat alteration. The specific effects of increased human occurrence and development in these areas, including infrastructure development and resource development (e.g., mining, forestry, energy), on Wolverine are not well understood. Additionally, given the Wolverine’s use of snow-covered habitat, especially for denning, climate change is expected to influence and affect Wolverine distribution and abundance. Knowledge of the specific effects of climate change on the species and its habitat, and associated modelling are lacking.
Given current evidence to suggest the Wolverine may be undergoing an eastward range expansion in northern Ontario, knowledge gaps related to the species, and the desire to ensure current and future recovery efforts are not limited to specific geographic areas, the recovery zone approach identified in the recovery strategy was not adopted. Instead, the government’s recovery goal is supportive of natural increases in the species' distribution and abundance without delineating specific locations.
The combination of potential threats to the species and intrinsic biological factors (e.g., low reproductive potential) likely result in a cumulative impact on Wolverines. Approaches to recovery for Wolverine in Ontario will focus on addressing knowledge gaps through research and monitoring, minimizing threats on the landscape through collaborative efforts, and increasing the level of knowledge and awareness about the species amongst individuals and organizations in Ontario.
Government’s recovery goal
The government’s goal for the recovery of the Wolverine is to maintain the current distribution of Wolverine in Ontario and support natural increases in the population abundance and distribution.
Protecting and recovering species at risk is a shared responsibility. No single agency or organization has the knowledge, authority or financial resources to protect and recover all of Ontario’s species at risk. Successful recovery requires inter-governmental co-operation and the involvement of many individuals, organizations and communities. In developing the government response statement, the Ministry considered what actions are feasible for the government to lead directly and what actions are feasible for the government to support its conservation partners to undertake.
The government endorses the following actions as being necessary for the protection and recovery of Wolverine. Support for the implementation of these actions may be provided through funding, agreements, permits (including conditions) and advisory services.
Actions identified as "high" will be given priority consideration for government funding under the ESA. The government will focus its support on these high-priority actions over the next five years. Annual priority actions for government support across all species will be established and communicated to encourage collaboration and reduce duplication of efforts.
Focus area: Monitoring and research
Objective: Increase knowledge about Wolverine biology, ecology, distribution, population dynamics, threats and habitat use in Ontario.
The Wolverine’s sparse distribution across large, often remote areas of land including dense conifer forest, and high mobility make it a difficult species to study. While general knowledge on Wolverine in Ontario exists, and the body of research continues to grow, there is a lack of detailed and in-depth knowledge available on a variety of factors affecting the species' protection and recovery. Information on the specific effects of threats, and on the species' sensitivity to various types of disturbance, is needed to inform mitigation of potential activity impacts. Further research, monitoring and modelling efforts are needed to increase our understanding of Wolverine distribution, population dynamics, habitat usage and biological needs, now and in the future. All of this information is needed to effectively estimate current population numbers, inform metrics to measure progress, enable evidence-based decision making, and effectively implement protection and recovery actions for the species.
The Wolverine is also a species of cultural significance to some Indigenous communities in Ontario and continuing to incorporate Traditional Ecological Knowledge, perspectives and practices is important in improving our understanding of the Wolverine and its distribution in Ontario. Wolverines that live in Ontario may also move between Manitoba and Québec. Sharing information and knowledge amongst jurisdictions, including Manitoba and Québec, and Indigenous communities and organizations will support a collaborative approach to information gathering and a better understanding of Wolverine in Ontario.
- (High) Conduct inventory and monitoring of Wolverine, including incorporating monitoring of Wolverine into ongoing, broadscale inventory and monitoring programs (e.g., moose aerial inventory surveys) and boreal species at risk initiatives, to:
- assess the species' distribution, abundance, and population trends;
- monitor the movement patterns of the species; and,
- monitor sources of human-influenced and natural mortality (e.g., road or rail kill, starvation, predation, disease, incidental trapping). (government led and government supported)
- (High) Conduct research on the species' habitat needs and usage in Ontario, including:
- evaluating factors related to den site selection, including the level of species' sensitivity to different types of disturbance in relation to den site selection (e.g., fire, forestry operations, resource extraction, development);
- determining the Wolverine home range size; and,
- evaluating and tracking habitat quality of Wolverine in Ontario (e.g., size, conifer cover, snow depths and cover, prey availability). (government supported)
- Encourage the recording, sharing and transfer of Traditional Ecological Knowledge on Wolverine, including information on the current and historical distribution of the species and their habitat use. Coordinate these efforts with other species at risk which occur in the same areas. (government supported)
- Develop, test and update landscape-level models for Wolverine in Ontario to better understand and predict future species' movement and distribution changes, including models to:
- explore the potential impacts of climate change (e.g., snow cover, snow depth, conifer cover, temperature changes) on Wolverine and their habitat; and,
- examine habitat usage on the landscape and potential future population dynamics of Wolverine, including interactions with natural (e.g., fire) and anthropogenic activities (e.g., road development, resource extraction, forestry). (government supported)
- Coordinate efforts and share information between Indigenous communities and organizations, and additional jurisdictions, such as the federal government, Manitoba and Québec, to help fill knowledge gaps within Ontario. (government led)
- Encourage the submission of Wolverine data to the Ministry’s central repository at the Natural Heritage Information Centre. (government led)
Focus area: Habitat management
Objective: Maintain the availability of suitable habitat for Wolverine in Ontario in collaboration with Indigenous communities and organizations, and stakeholders.
Wolverines depend on large amounts of habitat and as a result, habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation associated with development activities and changing land uses pose a threat to the species' recovery. Working collaboratively to implement appropriate best management practices for these activities, including mining, infrastructure and energy development, and adapting these strategies as our knowledge increases will support effective threat reduction for Wolverine in Ontario.
Knowledge gaps exist on specific habitat needs and habitat usage for Wolverine in Ontario. However, the general habitat needs of Wolverine for conifer stands and minimal levels of disturbance generally mirror the habitat needs of Caribou (Boreal population). The Forest Management Guide for Boreal Landscapes outlines requirements for managing Caribou (Boreal population) habitat under the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, 1994, at a landscape level. Applying this direction is likely to help maintain the ongoing suitability of habitat for Wolverine at a landscape scale. The Forest Management Guide for Conserving Biodiversity at the Stand and Site Scales provides information on the coarse and fine filters to be applied for species through the forest management planning process. Information is included for Wolverines on den sites, minimizing disturbance of Wolverines using den sites, and maintaining suitability of habitat surrounding den sites.
The Ontario government is also committed to addressing potential impacts on Wolverine habitat through land use planning. The Ontario government is committed to working jointly with First Nations to develop community based land use plans in the Far North of Ontario. A Far North Land Use Strategy for Ontario is currently being finalized. The Strategy will assist in the preparation of land use plans and guide the integration of matters that are beyond the geographic scope of the individual plans. It will contain guidance for planning teams on how to account for the needs of species at risk when preparing a plan. Through community based land use planning, First Nations and Ontario work together to decide what areas in the Far North are open for development and what areas should be protected. Wildlife, including Wolverine, as well as climate change and cumulative effects will be themes considered in the planning process.
With regards to climate change, the Ontario government has demonstrated leadership through the development of the Climate Change Strategy released in 2015 supported by a Climate Change Action Plan, first released in spring 2016, and the development of a provincial cap and trade program. The Ontario government’s Climate Change Strategy identifies the transformative change required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and builds on the foundation already established in Ontario to innovate and invest in a high-productivity economy that values our natural capital. Only through collective action can we help to reduce the impacts of climate change. Taking action to mitigate the impacts of climate change will support the persistence of habitat features, including snow-covered dens, that Wolverine depend on.
- (High) Develop, implement, and update, as needed, best management practices to reduce the effects of development activities, such as mining, infrastructure, and energy development on and around Wolverine dens. (government supported)
- Continue to implement guidance outlined for Wolverine in the Forest Management Guide for Conserving Biodiversity at the Stand and Site Scales, which may be updated periodically based on best available information. (government led).
- Work with communities and all sectors to implement, monitor and report on progress towards Ontario’s Climate Change Strategy and Climate Change Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (government led)
- Work jointly with First Nations communities in the Far North through community based land use planning to consider wildlife, including Wolverine, and identify community and broad-scale interests that reflect the complex nature of the ecology, culture and economics of the Far North. (government led and government supported)
- Protect the Wolverine and its habitat through the ESA. (government led)
- Educate other agencies and authorities involved in planning and environmental assessment processes on the protection requirements under the ESA. (government led)
Focus area: Stewardship and outreach
Objective: Work collaboratively to increase public awareness about Wolverine and reduce negative perceptions and threats to the species.
Industries, Indigenous communities and organizations, trapping organizations, and members of the general public all have a vital role to play in supporting the recovery of Wolverine. The Wolverine has a negative reputation in some circles as a destructive, aggressive, fierce predator which has historically shaped and in some areas, continues to shape public perceptions. By increasing the awareness of the species and its habitat amongst a broader public audience, individuals may be more inclined to take steps to prevent and reduce threats to the species across the landscape and to share information on Wolverine observations.
Working in partnership with trappers and trapping organizations will support the promotion and implementation of best management practices, the updating of training materials, and the reporting of incidentally trapped Wolverine under the ESA through section 23.19 of Ontario Regulation 242/08. Under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, the hunting and trapping of Wolverine is prohibited. Trapping devices used to target species with open trapping seasons are regulated based in part on manufacturer specifications. In order to be considered legal for use by licensed trappers in Ontario, these devices must not be modified. Wolverines have low reproductive potential related to their short life expectancy, relatively late age of sexual maturity, high amounts of time between births, small litter sizes and low survival rates of young. As a result and because the species occurs in low densities, Wolverine populations are particularly vulnerable to incidental trapping events which can result in mortalities. By working collaboratively with trappers and trapping organizations, effective techniques and technologies to minimize the number of incidentally trapped Wolverines and reduce damage to traplines can continue to be implemented and refined.
Cree, Ojibway and Oji-Cree are languages that are frequently spoken in northern Ontario where Wolverine are found. Translating relevant communication products into dialects of these languages will support stewardship and recovery efforts in these areas.
- (High) Work with fur trappers and fur trapping organizations in Ontario to promote trapping methods that reduce incidental catch of Wolverine and associated damage to traplines by:
- developing, implementing, promoting, evaluating, and updating, as needed, specific best management practices for trapping to minimize both incidental catch of Wolverine and associated trapline damage;
- updating training materials with the best available information related to the species and best management practices;
- promoting the reporting of any incidental trapping of the species that occurs; and,
- monitoring registrations under the Notice of Activity Form and Other Notices under Ontario Regulation 242/08 of the Endangered Species Act, 2007 for any incidental trapping of Wolverine to observe any trends in the number and locations of incidentally trapped animals. (government led and government supported)
- Develop and deliver targeted communication products to promote public awareness about the species and reduce negative perceptions. Where appropriate, translate documents into dialects of Cree, Ojibway and Oji-Cree. (government supported)
Financial support for the implementation of actions may be available through the Species at Risk Stewardship Program. Conservation partners are encouraged to discuss project proposals related to the actions in this response statement with the Ministry. The Ministry can also advise if any authorizations under the ESA or other legislation may be required to undertake the project.
Implementation of the actions may be subject to changing priorities across the multitude of species at risk, available resources and the capacity of partners to undertake recovery activities. Where appropriate, the implementation of actions for multiple species will be co-ordinated across government response statements.
The ESA requires the Ministry to conduct a review of progress towards protecting and recovering a species not later than five years from the publication of this response statement. The review will help identify if adjustments are needed to achieve the protection and recovery of Wolverine.
We would like to thank all those who participated in the development of the Recovery Strategy for Wolverine (Gulo gulo) in Ontario for their dedication to protecting and recovering species at risk.
For additional information
The government response statement for Wolverine is available in PDF format upon request. Please email PDF requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.