Unfortunately, the most immediate and significant threat to this endearing animal’s continued existence is not tree encroachment on the subalpine meadows, but another effect of changing climate: early and accelerated melting of winter snowpack.
The marmots depend on nutritious, easily digestible vegetation to gain sufficient weight in five months to last seven months of fasting hibernation.
A slowly exposed, well-watered meadow from melting snowpack meets these requirements.
Since 2015 the meadows have dried out by mid-July.
Flowers which would nourish the animals in September are finished blooming in July.
The pups and mom are most severely threatened by this since pups emerge from their burrow in mid-July and mom, relieved of maternal duties, is now ready to gain winter weight.
There is little for them to eat.
Since 2010 I have been observing marmots along the Obstruction Point Road.
In 2015 six colonies from the Eagle switchbacks to the area surrounding the trailheads flourished.
Today only one remains: Eagle colony.
It would take decades, if ever, for subalpine plants to invade newly burnt-over meadows sufficiently to provide adequate food for the animals.
What marmots require from us, and I believe they are deserving, is a scientific determination of both the number of animals and of functional, reproducing, colonies, along with their proximity to each other to prevent inbreeding.
From this information, a dedicated effort to keep a wild, viable population is possible.
It needs to be done soon.