Northern bog lemmings at cliff’s edge?

This is what may be the only photograph of a northern bog lemming, a glacial relict species currently being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The lemming lives in mainland Southeast Alaska, and elsewhere in North America, but is rarely seen.

This is what may be the only photograph of a northern bog lemming, a glacial relict species currently being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The lemming lives in mainland Southeast Alaska, and elsewhere in North America, but is rarely seen.

Many may not know the northern bog lemming lives in Southeast Alaska —but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering the rarely seen mammal’s status as endangered across the United States and is asking for relevant information from the public by Nov. 17.

Local naturalist Bob Armstrong, who spends almost every day out observing Southeast’s wildlife, said to his knowledge, he’s never seen a northern bog lemming.

“The only lemming I’ve seen and photographed is the collared lemming, and that was when I was living in Fairbanks,” he said. “I was surprised about how many records occur in Southeast.”

Research scientist Dean Pearson, who took what he believes to be the only photo of the animal as an undergraduate two decades ago, said the animals are “a little bit mysterious.”

“We don’t know a lot about them,” he said. “They’re just really sporadic; they’re not abundant anywhere.”

The northern bog lemming’s journey within the USFWS is just beginning, Candidate & Classification Coordinator Krishna Gifford, who works for the Northeast Region of the USFWS, wrote in an email. Ninety-day findings are based entirely on the information in the petition that asked for listing, Gifford wrote. In the case of the Northern Bog Lemming, Wild Earth Guardians filed the petition in 2014.

In a release, Taylor Jones, the endangered species advocate who co-wrote the petition, said the group is “delighted that the regal fritillary (a kind of butterfly) and bog lemming are one step closer to Endangered Species Act protections,” adding “The rarity of both these species is an important red flag for the health of their ecosystems, and we hope the Service will move quickly to protect them.”

Now, the USFWS is “actively seek(ing) out information from all public and private sources,” Gifford wrote in an email. “We can accept substantive information right up until we make a final decision, so while it is ideal for us to get new information during the open public information solicitation period, we can accept information after the Nov. 17 date in the Federal Register.”

Over the course of the next year or so, the USFWS will do a more in-depth study on the species.

According to a report from scholars within the Alaska Natural Heritage Program out of the University of Alaska, Anchorage, no one knows the species’ population size in the state, but the animal is uncommon. Northern bog lemmings range between south of the Brooks Range throughout interior Alaska, and on mainland Southeast, making their homes in burrows up to a foot deep in cold bogs or places with springs; they live mostly in the boreal forests, but also, sometimes, near rocky cliffs.

In the continguous U.S., the species is considered a glacial relict species, Pearson said, meaning scientists believe it survived from when glaciers last receded in the late Pleistocene, 10,000 to 11,000 years ago.

“Given its abundance and broken distribution in Alaska, it is likely a relict there as well, but this is hypothetical,” he wrote in an email.

Gifford doesn’t yet have an exact date for when the agency will decide whether or not the bog lemming warrants listing. Another possibility, as with all potential ESA listings, may be that the species warrants listing as endangered but isn’t added to the list because there are “higher priority listing actions,” in which case the agency reassesses that decision annually.

If they decided it merited listing as threatened or endangered, they would get peer and public review and comment on the proposed rule, she wrote. They may also designate critical habitat.

Armstrong and retired ecologist Mary Willson wrote about lemmings in “Natural Connections in Alaska,” a 2014 book.

Alaska’s home to three lemming species, they wrote – brown, bog, which they describe as “little-studied,” and collared. Populations tend to increase quickly every three or four years, then crash. (Also, the popular idea that lemmings dive off cliffs en masse isn’t true. Lemmings don’t commit mass suicide.) Around Alaska, they’re important food for pomarine jaegers, snowy owls and arctic foxes.

Read the petition here:

Read more on USFWS’s website here:

• Contact Juneau Empire outdoors writer Mary Catharine Martin at

More in Neighbors

(Juneau Empire File)
Community calendar of upcoming events

This is a calendar updated daily of upcoming local events during the… Continue reading

A public notice about one of several Thanksgiving proclamations President Abraham Lincoln issued during the Civil War. (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum)
Living and Growing: Give thanks with a grateful heart

Happy Thanksgiving! Once again we celebrate what is a distinctively American holiday,… Continue reading

A female bear with her cubs: bears have direct-development life cycles, looking like bears from the time they are born. (Photo by Jos Bakker)
On the Trails: Animal life cycles

There are two basic life-cycle patterns among animals. Many animals have complex… Continue reading

Maj. Gina Halverson is co-leader of The Salvation Army Juneau Corps. (Robert DeBerry/The Salvation Army)
Living and Growing: Be thankful for the opportunity to care for ‘Others’

As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, we are reminded of the importance of being… Continue reading

(Jessica Spengler/CC BY 2.0 DEED)
Cooking For Pleasure: No trauma pie crust (that actually tastes good)

The secret is keeping all of the ingredients very cold.

A springtail perches on a wood railing, perhaps to eat microalgae. (Photo by Bob Armstrong)
On the Trails: Early November sightings

An early November stroll on the dike trail was uneventful until I… Continue reading

Fred La Plante is the pastor of the Juneau Church of the Nazarene. (Courtesy / Fred La Plante)
Living and Growing: Having an attitude of gratitude

Our world is quickly enveloped in negativity, but that attitude doesn’t help… Continue reading

Devil’s Club Brewing Company brewer Trever Held accepts an award at the 2023 AK Beer Awards competition at Williwaw Social in Anchorage on Nov. 3. (Photo courtesy of Brewers Guild of Alaska)
Neighbors briefs

Juneau brewers win 10 medals at 2023 AK Beer Awards The Brewers… Continue reading

Juneau Veterans for Peace President Craig Wilson, left, watches a procession of fellow veterans and others ring the Liberty Bell replica in front of the Alaska State Capitol on Nov. 11, 2022, during an annual Armistice Day observation. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)
Three annual events honoring veterans scheduled Saturday

Armistice Day bell ringing at Capitol; Veterans Day events at Centennial Hall and EPH.

The flowers of enchanter’s nightshade are tiny and often self-pollinating. (Photo by Bob Armstrong)
On the Trails: Enchanter’s nightshade

Enchanter’s nightshade is a tiny perennial plant we commonly see (and walk… Continue reading

The new office in Lynnwood, Washington, for the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. (Photo courtesy of Tlingit and Haida)
Neighbors briefs

Tlingit and Haida opening new Washington office The Central Council of the… Continue reading

Photo courtesy of the Sealaska Heritage Foundation.
Neighbors: SHI to sponsor lec­ture on bombardment of Tlingit village of Ḵaachx̱haan.Áak’w

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will sponsor a lecture on the 1869 bombardment… Continue reading