February 29, 2024

In the Field with Wolverines

A couple of years earlier, when I was hiking with my husband Tony on Hidden Lake Trail in Glacier National Park, we picked up a break near the crowded halfway overlook. Scanning the surface above the lake, we spotted an animal running in our direction and instantly realized it was a wolverine.
I fumbled for my electronic camera and thankfully caught a couple shots before it loped out of sight. The crowd on the ignore was thrilled to see a small black bear.
They are often incorrect for small bears; however, their long bushy tail, blonde facial mask, and blonde stripes running along their sides, which can be prominent to barely noticeable, determine them as wolverines.
Wolverines are discovered throughout a broad swath of montane and boreal forests, tundra, and taiga in Europe, Asia and North America. Across this variety, theyre no place many. In the adjoining United States, they live at high altitudes in alpine greenery and above the tree zone. They do endeavor to lower elevations on celebration, generally for food.
Wolverine in snow. © Jenna Määränen/ Flickr.
Getting to Know Gulo.
One of the highlights of my career in wildlife biology was dealing with wolverines (Gulo gulo) on a research study in main Idaho. Wolverines are the largest terrestrial member of the Mustelidae family, which includes weasels, minks, martens, badgers, otters, and fishers.
They are extremely curious, which is beneficial for a generalist that will eat anything from bugs to bones. They are smart, tenacious, resilient, and energetic.
The Idaho research study was performed by Jeff Copeland of Idaho Department of Fish & & Game, now with The Wolverine Foundation. It was in its 3rd year when I showed up and met Beth Bratley and Sparky Easom, the body and soul of the field crew.
The wolverine traps appeared like small log cabins. © Mary Terra-Berns.
For a couple of weeks, we shoveled several feet of snow away from the traps, which appeared like small log cabins. To attract our quarry we secured hanging bait, normally road-killed deer or elk, which wafted some good strong stink out on the air, to a tree branch above each trap. Remote electronic cameras were set up at each trap.
For a couple of weeks, we routinely got a “trap closed” signal, which was cause for excitement. When arriving at the trap we would discover a non-target animal in the trap.
We had cues for different animals that might be detained– if its peaceful then its a red fox, a scampering noise indicated an American marten, grumbling implied gulo.
These hints werent 100% sure-fire. Once when checking a really quiet trap, I presumed a fox was inside. When I looked through a space under the cover a marten hit the gap hissing and chattering at me. I leapt back about five feet and looked around, even though I was alone, to validate nobody saw my silly maneuver. The marten maintained its bluff up until I raised the cover. Out it came acting like the mustelid king of the forest.
An American marten. © Megan Lorenz/TNC Photo Contest 2019.
Tenacious and clever.
Throughout these trap checks we frequently found substantial five-toed, plantigrade tracks going and coming from the forest. Drag marks often accompanied the pulling back tracks and the remote cam pictures confirmed a wolverine had emphasized its superior cunning and scavenging skills by eliminating our attentively located hanging bait.
The thief ran our trapline taking advantage of “free” food, which only needed climbing a tree to acquire. Wolverines are excellent climbers. After running our trapline for what looked like forever, we finally captured him.

Our trapline thief was identified as M333, a male caught and tagged 2 years prior. Due to the fact that their neck is larger than their head, wolverines might and would manage collars; therefore, transmitters were surgically implanted in their abdominal area by the state veterinarian. The surgery was effective, taking about 20 minutes. This method showed to be really successful– the animals tolerated the surgical treatment well and imitated they had a bandage placed on a paper cut.
When growling and fussing around begun originating from the trap, we gathered behind it and raised the cover. M333 took off like greased lightning, however stopped a brief distance away to take a snow bath and scrutinize at us for a few minutes.
We caught a total of 19 people consisting of M333; some were recaptures and a couple of were brand-new to the study.
A wolverine in a trap. © Mary Terra-Berns.
Resilient and Energetic.
Wolverines can cover some ground with their steady, simple and easy lope. 3 of the young males each traveled more than 120 miles from the study location, potentially looking to settle their own territory.
To keep an eye on the animals, we located them by ground (truck and snowmobiles) and, if weather permitted, by air in a small fixed-wing airplane.
One young male, M685, was caught north of Fairfield, Idaho, in the Smoky Mountains. He lay about a month later in Adams Gulch, north of Ketchum, Idaho, about 25 miles as the crow flies from the trap site.
M685 had remained in Adams Gulch for several days, so I volunteered to go see what was keeping him there. Robin Garwood, the wildlife biologist for the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, joined me on this experience.
Idahos Sawtooth Wilderness. © Will Whelan.
We backtrack on our trail where we found M685s tracks making excellent use of our well jam-packed ski path. He trotted along the path for about a half a mile then took off uphill.
Shedding our skis and strapping on snowshoes we treked uphill 100 lawns or two where we discovered a den deep in the snow and a “picnic location” with bits of blood and bone.
Backtracking M685s find into the creek bottom we discovered an elk carcass he had actually discovered under at least four feet of snow. He had actually been feeding off the elk, taking portions approximately his den. He stayed in the gulch for a few more days before carrying on.
A caught wolverine from the research study. © Mary Terra-Berns.
During among the weekly tracking flights, I enjoyed among the tagged males on a ten-thousand-foot pass in the Sawtooth Mountains. He was at the edge of a snowfield near some trees playing with what appeared to be a big elk leg bone. He turned it up in the air and captured it a few times, before effortlessly bounding his method over the pass and into the next drainage.
I had lots of terrific and fascinating days dealing with this job, I would do it once again in a heartbeat.
In the lower 48 mentions the population is approximated to be about 300 animals. A back-and-forth tug-of-war for noting wolverines under the Endangered Species Act has gone on for over 10 years. Presently they are listed as a candidate species, which offers some defense while their status is examined.
Historically, about twenty states claimed a wolverine existence however today Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Wyoming are the only 4 outside Alaska that still harbor small populations.
Your best opportunity in the lower 48 to catch a peek of among these amazing animals remains in Glacier National Park.

Related Articles.

Wolverines are discovered throughout a broad swath of montane and boreal forests, tundra, and taiga in Europe, Asia and North America. Wolverines are outstanding climbers. Because their neck is bigger than their head, wolverines could and would pull off collars; for that reason, transmitters were surgically implanted in their abdominal area by the state veterinarian. Wolverines can cover some ground with their stable, uncomplicated lope. A back-and-forth tug-of-war for listing wolverines under the Endangered Species Act has actually gone on for over 10 years.