Fauna of the National Parks
of the United States
PROBLEMS OF GEOGRAPHICAL ORIGIN
As regards their faunas, the parks stand in a peculiar relationship to the surrounding regions. Local residents in one breath praise the park as a breeding refuge for game to stock the countryside and in the next condemn it as a nest for the predatory species which they call vermin. The park standpoint is quite different. It has a special duty to protect the carnivorous forms which are blacklisted everywhere else. Game species do receive some consideration elsewhere, but the carnivores are insistently destroyed.
The draining away of the normal predator population is a more complex problem than just the loss of a member or two of the native fauna. It involves the danger of an abnormal increase in the ungulates which, in turn, involves abuse of the flora, and so on.
Because of their wide ranging habits and scarcity per unit area, it is relatively easy to almost completely deplete the smaller parks of these blacklisted species. Consequently, solution of this type of problem is to be sought in enlarging the size of the park. As the predators are generally less restricted by natural barriers, little can be done for them by merely changing boundaries without greatly extending the protected areas. In the case of mountain lions and wolves, especially the latter, it is doubtful if there is at present any park large enough in which they may be saved. The mountain lion is tenacious and may hang on in this country for a long time, but the wolf is already close to extermination. There is little likelihood that protection would be granted to wolves in areas adjacent to the parks, so they probably will go entirely. The coyote, on the other hand, prospers in spite of man and does not constitute a problem in this regard. Some of the smaller carnivores, including many fur-bearers, such as wild cat, fisher, wolverine, badger, otter, etc., may be saved by enlarging the parks and perhaps by providing some other protective management measures.
Wolverine in the parks of the United States. As the example selected for problems of this type, the wolverine can be best treated by considering its status in all the parks of the United States in which it was a native. Comprehension of this question depends upon appreciation of the relation the parks bear to the status of the species as a whole.
Among our animals the wolverine is one of the most unique and interesting. On the other hand, it has been one of the most persecuted because of its fur value and also because of its annoying habit of robbing trap lines. This persecution continues in the areas surrounding the parks where wolverines are still found and, owing to their wandering habits, keeps them drained away so that they will soon disappear from these last stands.
According to records of past conditions, the wolverine was never so abundant in the United States as in Canada, being restricted to the higher life zones. It is almost gone from this country now. There are a few wolverines in Sequoia National Park (estimate of nine in superintendent's 1931 report), perhaps more than in any other of our western parks. The wolverine of Sequoia is a different species than the Canadian wolverine. In Yosemite, Grinnell and Storer report the capture of two wolverines at the upper end of Lyell Canyon in July, 1915. At several other places in the park, tracks were seen which they ascribed to wolverine.12 In July 1929, a wolverine track was seen in moist sand near Saddlebag Lake, just outside the boundary, by our party.
There seems to be no indication or record of wolverine in Lassen Volcanic or in Crater Lake National Parks. At Mount Rainier tracks of wolverine are occasionally seen. October 3, 1930, our party saw tracks of wolverine on Burroughs Mountain, by Sunrise Park. In Glacier National Park, Vernon Bailey 13 reports a few trapped and killed at various places in the park between the years 1895 and 1910, but doubts whether any are present now, although he stresses the possibility of their wandering in from elsewhere. In the Yellowstone-Teton region, a few wolverines may still be present. They have been trapped outside of the parks, and occasionally tracks are seen. In Rocky Mountain National Park they were present in moderate numbers during the pioneer days of that region, but none has been seen in or near the park for many years, and they are believed to be gone from the region.
The foregoing data give a general picture of the present status of wolverines in those western parks where they should naturally be. It is evident in each park that their numbers have greatly decreased, this decrease being primarily due to trapping, the direct agency of man.
What can be done? There are several things which would help the wolverine to come back.
(a) Consciousness of the problem is the first step. Without being aware of the plight of our fauna, nothing could even be tried.
(b) Since wolverines are great wanderers, it would be well to consider the requirements of their range in establishing or completing boundaries. Enlargement of park areas in the upper Canadian and Hudsonian zones would increase their chances greatly.
(c) As most of the parks concerned could not be made large enough to be ideal in this respect, a protective zone, free from all hunting and trapping, might be established around each park as a further safeguard.
(d) Special attention could be paid to the matter of protection from poaching for this and other species known to be in danger. This does not mean that the parks are not patrolled; it merely means that an added emphasis should be placed on protection in these cases.
(e) If all means of encouragement and protection should fail, then in some instances it might be possible to procure and liberate a few pairs for breeding stock. This would be especially desirable in the Rocky Mountain parks, where the common wolverine (Gulo luscus) could be planted. In the Cascade-Sierran parks, no introduction of stock should be even considered until the ranges of the common and southern (Gulo luteus) forms are more definitely worked out. If an intergradation of these two forms should occur in this region, it would be especially valuable, scientifically and educationally, to do nothing that would disturb this natural blending of species. If the wolverines in this area should continue to decrease, then it might be justifiable and necessary to choose breeding stock from the nearest range of the native species for reintroduction into the parks concerned. The feasibility of trapping and transporting wolverines has been demonstrated in the securing of a number of these animals from Alaska for the zoological gardens at St. Louis, Mo.
12 Animal Life in the Yosemite, by Grinnell, Joseph, and Storer, Tracy I. University of California Press, Berkeley, Calif., 1924, pp. 85-86. 13 Wild Animals of Glacier National Park, by Bailey, Vernon, and Bailey, Florence Merriam. National Park Service, U. S. Department of the Interior, 1917, pp. 90-91.