It’s Wolverine Wednesday!

Posted on Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

It’s Wolverine Wednesday!

Hello volunteers!  Below is the latest news from the wolverine world.  Please read through and let me know if you have any questions.  Thanks for all your hard work this past week and your continued commitment to the project as we head quickly into February.

Firkin Friday the wolverine way:

Keeping in the tradition of a monthly get-together for our Wolverine Project volunteers, we invite all our project participants to join us on February 3rd for Firkin Friday at Laughing Dog Brewery in Ponderay, ID.  This will be a great opportunity to meet other volunteers and to share stories from your camera station adventures this winter.  We’ll kick off the event at 5:00pm with a short project update and a summary of what we’ve accomplished so far.  Come on out and enjoy Firkin Friday the wolverine way, and remember to wear your hats!

Project Summary:

Wolverine volunteers have been busy this week!  From wiring beavers to perusing photos, you have shown up in full force to make sure this project continues to clip along at a steady pace.

On Saturday, four volunteers and the FSPW office crew prepared a shipment of 33 beaver from IDFG to supply our camera stations with a total of 66 pre-wired baits! Many thanks to Cate Huisman, Dan Krabacher, Phil Degens, and John Harbuck for their valiant efforts on this dirty work.  You can read all about the beaver prep process in Cate’s story “The Glamorous Side of Volunteering”, posted in the FSPW Blog.

We’ve also begun to sort through the thousands of photos that have recently come back from the wildlife cameras at our monitoring stations.  For the next few months a group of “photo warriors” will be perusing these photos and identifying the creatures captured in the digital images.  By the end of the season we’ll know a lot more about the critters that roam the wilderness of the Idaho Panhandle!

You’ve been working hard in the backcountry as well!  As of today we have 21 stations up and running, with four more set to go out this weekend.  We’re getting to the point in the season where many of the early stations will be taken down and a whole slew of new stations will be deployed in their place.  If you’ve already put your camera station up, remember that you’ll let it record for four weeks total before taking it down.  For those of you on the alternate schedule, remember that you’ll want to keep 3 weeks between visits.  If anyone has questions about their schedule, please contact me.

Tracking class scheduled for February 20th:

If you haven’t had the opportunity to attend one of Brian Baxter’s wildlife tracking courses, I would suggest clearing your schedule for the 20th of February!  Brian will be leading another all-day tracking class in Heron, MT for anyone interested in learning more about winter ecology and the interpretation of wildlife sign.  Brian’s courses have been a huge hit this winter, so contact him early at b_baxter53@yahoo.com to reserve your spot.

Photos from your adventures:

Just a reminder that we’d love to share your photos from wolverine adventures with the rest of the volunteer crew.  If you have a selection of shots that you’d like to have posted, or a brief anecdote for our Stories from the Field collection, please email them to me at mustelids@scotchmanpeaks.org.  You may also submit photos to our annual photo competition by following this link.
Cheers!

6 Responses

  1. Scott Rulander says:

    Well done! Looking forward to seeing the fruits (photos) from all your hard work!

  2. 33 beavers?!!! Enough already! I sincerely wish IDFG & FSPW would be done with this wolverine project and stop giving trappers more reasons to justify their heinous and abhorrent trapping of beavers and other creatures. Why get in bed with the devil?

    Wolverines may be elusive, glamorous and contemporary stand-ins for the Marlboro Man but they don’t come anywhere close to beavers in usefulness as a keystone species nor in the complexity of social structure. 33 beavers – that’s 33 beaver families and/or mated-for-life pair bonds destroyed. Would it be okay with FSPW if folks in Montana started using trapped wolverines – only – to bait grizzlies?

    • Kelsey Brasseur says:

      First, let me say that we understand and appreciate the frustration with our use of beaver as the preferred bait species for the rare forest carnivore study. They have been historically overharvested for their pelts and castor, and there have been many struggles in rebuilding a stable beaver population in our region. As wilderness advocates, we are very much aware of the critical role that beaver play as a keystone species in Pacific Northwest ecosystems. Their collection of woody debris and aquatic leaf litter forms the backbone for a complex food web that supports many creatures, including juvenile salmon and migratory waterfowl. In addition, they are perhaps one of our greatest allies in the restoration of riparian and wetland habitats, in the stabilization of stream banks and soils, in the improvement of water quality, and in the protection of sensitive landscapes from large water-level fluctuations.

      Little is know about the presence of wolverines and other rare forest carnivores in the Idaho Panhandle and western Montana. Our goal in partnering with IDFG and ICL in this project is to inform agency decisions about land use and management in the areas these animals inhabit. Proper conservation measures for these creatures cannot be taken without information on the size and range of their populations. We hope that in providing this information, we will help reduce human/animal conflicts and provide the baseline data necessary for continued biodiversity monitoring in our region. Camera stations, like those used by our project, have proved to be one of the least invasive and most effective ways to collect data on these elusive creatures, requiring little human disturbance to deploy and allowing for the study of multiple species at the same time. Our study also supports conservation efforts for other rare forest carnivores including Lynx, Marten and Fisher.

      The beaver we obtained for the camera stations in this study were legally trapped in accordance with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations. ODFW regulates beaver trapping throughout Oregon, where beaver are taken during authorized seasons by licensed trappers. In most Oregon counties, beaver have established a healthy and abundant population, and the trapping season occurs annually just like the elk or deer hunt. Lacking their native predators, the beaver population is controlled much like deer and elk through state wildlife regulations. The number of beaver taken is not influenced by our decision to obtain carcasses for this study. Beaver are not trapped for their meat, and once the commercially valuable pelt and castor are removed, the carcass is generally discarded or sometimes sold. For the rare forest carnivore study, we use these carcasses for bait and essentially recycle them back into the food web.

      The decision to responsibly trap beaver is a personal one, just like fishing or hunting, and is often very important to families who have been doing it for decades. While we may or may not personally agree with the ethics of harvesting animals, we can try to understand the decisions of those people who take part in this activity, and hope that they do so in a way that contributes to the overall health of the greater ecosystem. We are all consumers in our own way, and there are many different ideologies and beliefs that guide our actions.

      Many trappers and landowners alike choose to remove beavers that continually cause damage to homes and property. Beaver do respond well to being live-trapped and moved, but it is not always successful or possible to relocate these animals to a new home. There are several other ways to discourage the efforts of beaver that are constructing dams on private property and other sensitive areas such as culverts, but they are often trapped in the end after dam removal or other measures fail.

      Many of our baits have also been the quarters of road-killed deer, which are “harvested” by vehicle traffic along our motorways. Processing these deer is extremely time consuming for the IDFG biologists who already have limited funds and even more limited time. Hauling these deer off busy highways in rain and snow also puts IDFG personnel in a very dangerous situation. For legal as well as liability reasons, the harvest of road kill is not something that we can ask volunteers to handle. These quarters work well as a supplement to the beaver baits, and though it makes sense to use them when possible, the reality is that we could not process enough to provide the project with a sufficient bait supply.

      Wolverines are indeed glamorous and elusive, but they are much more than that. In this era of worldwide climate change, they serve as an important indicator species for one of the most rapidly changing environments on the plant. They have evolved to make their living in the deep snows of glacial mountain ranges and other wild alpine zones, and require well-established snowpack for reproductive success. Acquiring accurate information about which specific areas they use is essential to determining critical habitat needs and potential locations to conserve. The snowpack inhabited by the wolverine also provides the essential water source that sustains the alpine meadow and its myriad creatures. Thus, the success of wolverine populations illuminates the health of an entire ecosystem. They have an incredibly complex social structure that involves multiple generations and multiple “families”, and though they may not be considered a keystone species, they are still vitally important to maintaining the healthy carnivore population that ultimately keeps food webs in check. With the potential to be listed as a threatened/endangered species, they provide a stirring reminder of the determination and creativity that it takes to survive against all odds, including human threats. This is why they are the face of this project. At the end of the day, wildlife management is not a contest between species, but rather a balancing act that ensures the continued success of the whole ecosystem.

      We understand and appreciate that conservation issues are very complex and that differing opinions on conservation practices exist. Please feel free to contact us directly at mustelids@scotchmanpeaks.org if you have specific questions or concerns about our protocols and partnerships. Thanks again for voicing your concerns on this issue, and we hope that we were able to address them adequately.

  3. [...] Idaho Panhandle wolverine project has stepped up its PR with regular blog updates every Wednesday – be sure to check these out, as they also offer the opportunity to keep up [...]

  4. Stephen Augustine says:

    Thank you for your lengthy response. I applaud, appreciate and support the efforts of FSPW to protect and preserve wilderness. I also applaud your intentions in studying wolverines, lynxes, martens and fishers as a means to both protecting them and their habitat.

    I, however, still strongly disagree with your use of trapped beavers and as such do not support this project. You state that beavers have multiplied in the absence of their natural predators and hence have to be controlled through “wildlife regulations” (i.e., trapping). In my opinion, this seems like a convenient way for IDFG to offer more legitimacy to trappers by claiming that they “contribute to conservation”. IDFG, sadly, is bound by an anachronistic charter wherein the value of wild animals resides solely in their potential to be killed. In my opinion your use of trapped beavers flies in the face of the spirit of wilderness preservation. I fail to see a love for wild animals in any of this.

    I do realize that FSPW is trying to walk a fine line wherein you’re trying to garner support from as many quarters as possible and so sometimes you will not say something that needs to be said. In this instance the solution for beaver control (if that’s even really an issue) is, almost obviously, to reintroduce their natural predators. Among their primary natural predators are wolves and coyotes. Wolves in Idaho and Montana are yet again being exterminated and reduced to a minimal number such that they will NOT have any sort of meaningful ecological role. As for coyotes – they are outright treated as vermin to be shot on sight. I am yet to hear FSPW voice anything in support of protecting both wolves and coyotes – especially wolves who are pretty much the epitome of wilderness. I will also point out that wolves, as an apex predator, are also a keystone species in the “food web” and their decline is probably directly linked to the decline of the wolverine (less for the wolverines to scavenge upon – necessitating larger individual territories). You speak so eloquently about the wolverine yet nary a word about politically (but not scientifically) contentious wolves. FSPW – I hope you will find your voice in this regard.

    Sadly I also find that your response also lacks any real heart. It’s full of euphemisms and technical lingo – “harvest”, “legal”, “consumers”, “personal choice”, etc. I abhor the use of “harvest”. Why not just name a spade a spade? How about “killed”, “slaughtered”, “shot”, “mangled”, “tortured”? (Roadkill, by the way, is NOT “harvested”. Almost all roadkill is nothing less than a tragic and unintentional accident.) Yes it’s legal for trappers to do what they do but why does FSPW have to hang their hat on that? And “responsibly trap beaver”? I’m flabbergasted that you would presume to speak up for trappers by claiming that they “responsibly trap beaver”. If you condone personal choice then why is FSPW advocating to make something that is currently legal illegal? Namely, you’re trying to designate a sizeable area of public land as wilderness and therein, make illegal, activities that are currently legal.

    I also have a suggestion for a neutral source of bait – euthanized cats and dogs from kill shelters. There is an abundant and steady supply of these and at least their bodies would be of some utility by being “recyled back into the food web” (I’m sure the food web doesn’t terribly mind that they are cats and dogs and not beavers. Right?).

    You’re right that we have differing opinions and I thank you for letting me voice that opinion – even if it won’t change a single thing.

  5. Phil Hough says:

    A few facts, for those who have read this far:

    The selection of bait is ultimately not ours (FSPW or ICL) to make. We are under obligation to IDFG as the agency lead to follow their protocols. Further discussion on this particular topic will have no impact on our options. Any suggestions for other sources of or types of bait should be directed to IDFG (or in other locations the specific agency overseeing the project.) There’s little value in us extending hypothetical discussions.

    As for our “voice” – we have always limited it to those issues with direct impact on the proposal for wilderness in the Scotchmans. Our supporters other interests and opinions are too diverse to speak with any authority on any other area of concern. There are other organizations who can, and will, speak for and against trapping, predator management, wildlife in general, or other specific or general issues in regards to conservation, the environment or even wilderness. We have found our voice and we are comfortable with its possibilities as well as its limitations. Its power is in its focus.

    Wilderness designation would not itself outlaw any hunting or trapping activities that are currently legal in the Scotchmans.

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