Population size of the American badger in Washington is unknown, but there is concern that the statewide population is declining.
Description and Range
The American badger is a mid-sized (10 to 11 pounds), burrowing mammal of the weasel family that uses underground burrows for resting, denning, and prey caching. They are well-suited for burrowing and digging: their bodies are flattened, with powerful, stocky legs, short ears, and a small pointed head. Their distinctly colored faces sport black patches over a white throat, chin, and cheeks.
The American badger is classified as a furbearing species in Washington, but few captures have been reported since 1995.
Ecology and life history
American badgers are generally found in grassland, shrubsteppe, desert, dry forest, parkland, and agricultural areas. They require soils that allow the excavation of den sites and support burrowing prey species (like ground squirrels).
American badgers forage underground by digging into the burrow systems of prey species, which commonly include ground squirrels, prairie dogs, marmots, and pocket gophers. Badgers also feed on carrion, insects, reptiles, birds, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, marmots, and gophers. Burrows excavated by American badgers are used by other bird and mammal species.
They are a solitary species, and use large home ranges that may overlap with other American badgers of either sex. Gray wolves, coyotes, bears, and cougars are reported predators of American badgers, but for many populations, anthropogenic (man-made) causes (vehicle collisions, illegal shooting, and trapping) appear to be a more significant source of mortality.
In springtime, female badgers give birth to litters ranging from one to five pups. The young badgers stay in their grass-lined den, nursing until 3 months of age. Juveniles may emerge from the den as early as 2 months but stay with their mother until 5 to 6 months old.
The current distribution of American badgers includes portions of eastern Washington from the eastern Cascade foothills to the Idaho border.
The map illustrates potential range and habitat distribution of this species in Washington. For a map of worldwide distribution and other species' information, check out NatureServe Explorer.
Sensitivity to climate change
In general, sensitivity of the American badger appears to be mostly driven by prey and habitat specialization. Badgers occur in shrub-steppe, grassland, semi-desert, and open forest habitats, require friable soils for digging, and prey primarily on ground squirrels, pocket gophers, and a variety of other small mammals. Warmer, drier conditions that lead to more frequent and hotter fires and/or encourage the growth of invasive plants (e.g., cheatgrass) may degrade or alter natural habitat for badgers by negatively impacting some prey species (e.g., ground squirrels). However, warmer and drier conditions may also allow grassland and prey expansion, especially at higher elevations, thereby possibly creating more habitat for badgers. Based on these conditions, badgers may decline in the Columbia Basin, but increase in the east Cascades and other eastside mountainous areas.
Exposure to climate change
- Increased temperatures
- Changes in precipitation
- Altered fire regimes
- Increased invasive plants
Conservation Threats and Actions Needed
- Resource information collection needs
- Threat: Adequate data on species abundance, trend, and threats are lacking.
- Action Needed: Undertake comprehensive field surveys to determine abundance, habitat use, and threats.
- Fish and wildlife habitat loss or degradation
- Threat: Habitat loss and fragmentation from agriculture and other development.
- Action Needed: Conduct research and modeling of habitat using findings of habitat associations from badger surveys. Use these findings to prevent further loss and decline of habitat.
- Overharvesting of biological resources
- Threat: Illegal killing and persecution.
- Action Needed: Enforce existing protective regulations. Conduct education and outreach to landowners and recreationists.
- Threat: Lack of adequate prey availability may limit badger abundance in some areas.
- Action Needed: Work to restore populations of ground squirrels and other prey species.