The ‘wild’ Michigan wolverine

The state of Michigan probably has a wild wolverine living wild, although the area it’s living wildly in is not very wild. Isn’t that wild?

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is about 90 percent certain the wolverine is not a captive that escaped or was turned loose. But it’s somewhat of a mystery why it’s in Huron County.

Huron County is not heavily populated, but it is highly agricultural due to extensive wetland draining by farmers. Huron County is in the tip of the thumb in the mitt-like shape that Michigan resembles. All but its southern edge is bordered by Lake Huron. The wolverine that was first tracked by coyote hunters is alone, and the sex is not known by DNR officials.

The press has touted this wolverine as the first wild one to grace Michigan land in 200 years. Yet it’s not a given that wolverines were ever part of Michigan’s natural history. Credible documentation does not exist of wolverine Michigan residency. It’s kind of goofy if you think about college football’s Michigan Wolverines; the pride of Michigan may have a hollow name. According to state history, people from the territory that is now Ohio gave the name to those in the area that became Michigan because they were gluttonous like wolverines.

The Wolverine Foundation, based in Idaho, is aware of the Michigan wolverine, though they have not sent anyone to observe it. They are, however, doing research on wolverines in Ontario, Canada.

This effort, called the Boreal Wolverine Project, is a joint effort among Canada’s Wildlife Conservation Society, Canada’s Parks Service, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and the Wolverine Foundation. So far, extensive research has begun on six wolverines that were radio collared by project biologists.

According to the Wolverine Foundation, wolverine numbers are way up in Ontario, and the Foundation is pointing to the fact that hare populations are peaking as they do in cycles. Hare populations may be beefing up wolverine populations.

Wolverines are moving south in Ontario. They’ve been documented in Thunder Bay, Canada, which is close to the Great Lake of Huron. It wasn’t too many years ago when Ontario’s wolverines were only in the province’s upper third.

Now the biggest members of the weasel family are frolicking near Thunder Bay. With their habit of traveling great distances, it’s not hard to imagine a wolverine crossing a frozen Lake Huron, and that is what biologists think might have happened to the Michigan wolverine.

Wolverines reside in portions of the western U.S., primarily in the Rockies up through western Canada and Alaska. East of the Rockies in Canada, the wolverine range shifts far north to the boreal forests. The farther east you go, the farther north the populations are. So why are they moving south? The answer is probably more involved than a little rabbit meat.

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in the environment and disability issues. He has an associate’s degree in science and a bachelor’s in fine arts. Rod is a member of the Audubon Society, the Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and Rockford Amateur Astronomers, Inc.

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