What we know about wolverines

This season marks the third year of  FSPW volunteer involvement in the rare forest carnivore study begun by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game in 2010. The study uses camera stations to capture wolverines and their mustelid cousins on film in their natural habitat.  In the previous seasons, remote cameras gathered dozens of images of martens, fishers and weasels, as well as a few wolverine pictures and a portrait of a Canada lynx, the first confirmed sighting of that elusive feline in Boundary County in two decades.

Buoyed by the success of the program, IDFG, FSPW, ICL, and Selkirk Outdoor Leadership & Education (SOLE) have teamed up to continue the study for 2013. Below are some quick facts about wolverines, their mustelid cousins, why we are studying them and how to get involved as a volunteer.

What is a wolverine and what are they related to?

Of all Idaho’s native wildlife, the wolverine and its cousins in the mustelid family are among the most elusive, secretive and shy. The wolverine itself is the size of a small dog and related to weasels, polecats, ferrets, minks, fishers, otters, badgers, skunks and martens. These far-ranging scavengers are commonly associated with rugged, snowy terrain of the Selkirks and Cabinet Mountains. From Idaho to the Arctic Circle, wolverines thrive in places few other species can even survive.

Why study wolverines?

Wolverines are shrouded in myth, but very few facts. Where do they live? What do they eat? Where do they den and raise their young? These are basic biological questions to which we need to know the answers in order to make sure wolverine populations remain healthy in Idaho and Montana.

One of the "captured" fishers from the 2011-12 effort

One of the "captured" fishers from the 2011-12 effort

How do people study wolverines?

Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, Idaho Conservation League, Selkirk Outdoor Leadership & Education, volunteers and area science classes are working this winter with biologists from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to find out how many wolverines are living in the Selkirk, Purcell and Cabinet Mountain ranges. The work will be carried out in Bonner and Boundary Counties in Idaho. Biologists and volunteers will establish bait stations, monitored by remote cameras, in likely wolverine habitat to try to capture wolverines on film.

In our winter studies, we will also encounter a number of martins and fishers, a “byproduct” that is helpful in learning more about these relatively rare carnivores, too.

Can you help out or learn more?

Yes! This study depends on interested volunteers and we are eager to share what we learn with everyone.  Contact Lauren Mitchell at mustelids@scotchmanpeaks.org to get involved.  Few people will ever see a wolverine in the wild, but this is a chance to gain a glimpse into their secretive lives. Volunteers will be most active from January to February.

What will the results be used for?

Westerners make the best decisions about utilizing wildlife and natural resources when we have solid facts to work with.  The information gathered in this study will be available to the public so we can all learn more about these rare creatures and develop well-informed opinions.  The professional biologists at Idaho Fish & Game will compile and report the study findings.