Olympic marmot conservation plan: Could reintroducing wolves save the species?

Conservationists are advocating for the Olympic marmot, a beloved species found only in Washington state, to be added to the endangered species list. The Center for Biological Diversity attributes the subspecies’ decline to climate change and predation by coyotes.

The Olympic marmot, nicknamed the ‘whistle pig,’ is often heard before it is seen in alpine meadows. 

"They’re the fluffy denizens of these beautiful alpine meadows," said Noah Greenwald from the Center for Biological Diversity. "As the temperatures warm and snowpack decreases, trees move uphill and we’re going to see forest taking over these meadows. With losing these meadows, we’ll lose the marmots too." 

Currently, an estimated 2,000 to 4,000 Olympic marmots remain. Between 1990 and 2006, the population saw a sharp decline. In some cases, entire colonies disappeared as trees encroached on their habitats.

Additionally, the melting snowpack has allowed coyotes to invade the marmots' high-country habitat. A recent study found that coyotes are responsible for 85 percent of marmot predation. 

"With the disappearance of wolves, it allowed coyotes to move in," explained Greenwald.

In the early 1900s, a government-led campaign eradicated wolves from the Olympic Peninsula through poisoning and shooting. This left a void that coyotes filled. 

Greenwald, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, argues reintroducing this apex predator could restore balance to the ecosystem. An approach is currently underway on the eastern side of the state, where resettled Rocky Mountain wolves now roam the Cascades. 

However, these wolves may not be the best fit for the Olympic Peninsula’s lush environment.

"The wolves that were present in the Olympics are more similar to wolves in British Columbia," Greenwald said, suggesting that transplanting packs from Vancouver Island could be a viable solution.

Greenwald believes that getting the Olympic marmot on the endangered species list would raise awareness and channel more resources toward conservation efforts.

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