The Chinese calendar says 2011 is the year of the Rabbit — sort of. First of all, the new Chinese year doesn’t start until February 3, and furthermore, it will really be 4078 by Chinese count. They got about a 2,000 year head start on keeping track. At Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, though, 2011 is starting out with the season of the wolverine (which eats rabbits, by the way).
March 17, 18 and 19, FSPW is bringing wolverine lover and expert Doug Chadwick to Troy, Trout Creek and Sandpoint to give presentations on the elusive mustelids. Chadwick, author of The Wolverine Way, is a leading expert on the wolverine, even though he began his career watching mountain goats. Doug Chadwick earned his M.S. in Wildlife Biology from the University of Montana and conducted research on goats in the Crown of the Continent ecosystem throughout the 1970’s and published the definitive work A Beast the Color of Winter in 1983. Since, he has become enamored of wolverines, another altitude-loving native of Montana and Idaho which depends of solitude and snowpack in part to survive.
Serendipitously, and like the Chinese calendar, FSPW is getting a head start on learning about wolverines by engaging in a study led by Idaho Fish and Game biologists Michael Lucid and Lacy Robinson. “We want to know,” Lucid says, “if there are wolverines in the West Cabinets, and if there are, how many.”
To answer those two basic questions, Lucid and Robinson, with the help of volunteers, are setting traps and bait stations in the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness this winter. Sunday, January 23, 9 folks from FSPW — Phil Hough, Deb Hunsicker, Neil and Ann Wimberley, Jim and Sandii Mellen, Dan Simmons, John Harbuck and Sandy Compton — accompanied the biologists and set up a bait station designed to attract critters like wolverines, capture some of their DNA and take their photos.
The bait, firmly wired to a tree, is a beaver carcass, which has a distinctly musky smell of its own. While Lucid undertook this somewhat grisly task, and to sweeten the offer, Robinson hung a household sponge soaked with something that Sandii Mellen confessed to making her eyes water. If there are any creatures with well-developed olfactory skills in that drainage, they will be stopping by. Lucid and the Mellens then attached gun brushes to the bait tree in two circles around the bole six inched apart just below the beaver. These are in place to capture hair from whatever might try to feed on the beaver.
Lucid and Robinson share a passion for their research, as well as an appreciation for the black humor opportunities such endeavors afford. As Lucid used his Leatherman to poke a rope through the beaver carcass, Robinson commented, “I’ve learned to always ask what was the last thing he did with any knife he handles.”
On another tree about 11 feet from the bait, Robinson set up a infra-red camera that is triggered by motion. “We’ll get pictures of lots of different things,” she said, “maybe even a wolverine.”
The bait station will be checked and “reset” on February 5 by FSPW volunteers. The gun brushes will be replaced and the originals placed in envelopes for microscopic inspection by Robinson and Lucid. Data from the camera will be retrieved by pulling out a 2 gigabyte flash card, which will be replaced by another. And, the beaver — however much of it might be left — will be replaced by another. Around the middle of February, FSPW volunteers will take the bait station down.
So, maybe when Doug Chadwick shows up in March, FSPW will have some wolverine pictures to show him. “I hope so,” Compton says. “There were wolverines here when I was a kid. Thinking they might be there is one thing. Knowing they are there is quite another.”