Disclaimer: This post deals with material that is by nature somewhat graphic. If you got your parent’s permission to skip the dissection lab part of high school biology, you should read no further.
A Guest Blog by Cate Huisman, Writer & Editor
While FSPW’s many volunteers continued to pursue the more glamorous aspects of wolverine research—namely hiking/skiing/snowshoeing into remote areas to set up research stations—the truly dedicated assembled outside a cold storage locker in Sandpoint last weekend to prepare newly arrived beaver carcasses to serve as bait.
This process came to be known as “wiring beavers,” which sounds like setting them up for cable TV and high-speed Internet but is emphatically not. Instead, it means attaching wires to the carcasses so they can be securely attached to trees at the research sites. Wolverines can be expected to quickly remove a carcass that has a wire going only around it, and thus not be at the research station long enough to be photographed and leave some DNA behind. So “wiring beavers,” for the valiant team that took it on, meant setting up each carcass so that there was wire going through it.
The beavers, each freed of its insulating fur by a legal trapper, were frozen solid to facilitate this process, which is to say make it remotely bearable for the volunteer beaver wirers. But the beavers were big—up to 50 pounds—making them bigger than was ideal for hauling on skis or snowshoes into remove study sites.
The solution to this problem, of course, was to cut each carcass in half and wire a set of half-beavers. Jim Murphy had created a special jig for this purpose, and each beaver lay neatly in place in the jig as it went under Jim’s Sawzall to cleave nose-end from tail-end. Then Jim drilled two holes through each half with a power drill with an extended bit, and other volunteers hopped to work inserting wires through the holes.
This would have worked perfectly if all the beavers had been frozen solid all the way through, and some of them were. But inside the frozen outer shells of some of the larger animals, parts that looked vaguely familiar from 10th-grade biology textbooks began to slop around—and even out of—some of the carcasses.
The enterprising Jim solved this problem by drilling four holes in each beaver and inserting the wires first, and then cutting the beavers in half as a final step in the process. From there, each end could be tipped up so that anything loose on the inside was held there by gravity. Then each half was double-bagged and put back in the locker so that all parts could be frozen in place.
This process gave the beaver wirers an intimate knowledge of beaver anatomy that few are privy to in this day and age. It became evident that beavers are vegetarians and that the thickness of their fat helps keep them warm as well as their fur. Wrapping the wire for storage and transportation was fairly easy around the tail ends, but trying to secure it in the beavers’ teeth at their head ends didn’t work so well—the teeth were remarkably small for the legendary work they do.
Although they were of course thrilled with this unexpected opportunity for biological enlightenment, the beaver wirers have since discovered that for clothing exposed to less-than-fully-frozen beaver, there are some effects that can’t be removed even with repeated trips through a washing machine. They would exhort the folks with the bait-placement, camera-setup, and station-monitoring jobs to keep their bait really cold as they transport and place it.