Wolverines may be expanding their range

Wolverines may be expanding their range

By Rod Myers

By Rod Myers

I’m a naturalist, and I know mammals. When a wolverine trotted across the road in front of my car in rural northwest Wisconsin, I knew what it was immediately. It was the summer of ’78 when I saw the wolverine, but I didn’t report it till years later. When I did, however, people working with the DNR acted as though I must have had a firewater IV in my arm when I saw this any-other-mammal-but-a-wolverine. Supposedly, no wolverines have been seen in Wisconsin since the 1800s.

Last winter, my cousin Jessica, aka Ellie Mae, ‘cause she loves wild critters just like Ellie Mae Clampett, saw what she thought was a wolverine cross her rural property in northwest Wisconsin. We talked about our sightings again this year, so I decided to search the Web, where I found the Wolverine Foundation at www.wolverinefoundation.org or, gulo@wolverinefoundation.org. The Foundation is dedicated to the preservation and study of wolverines.

I told my cousin about the website and asked her to check it out. A few days later, I got this e-mail from her. “I checked out the wolverine website you told me about. I’m 99 percent sure that what I saw was a wolverine. It was definitely something that made this country girl stand up and stare.”

Jessica is very observant and knows wildlife. I e-mailed the Wolverine Foundation, then called them a week later and spoke to Judy Long, the Foundation’s administration manager. In that 40-minute phone conversation, I learned more about wolverines than I’d learned in the previous 40 years. Judy told me there is a lot of myth and misunderstanding about wolverines because to this date, very little is known about their behavior. According to Judy, wolverines have a large range, which can be hundreds of miles that they roam almost continually. “They travel more than wolves,” said Judy, “and their fear of man has pushed them to remote areas.” However, the one I nearly accidentally hit with my car was three miles from a good-sized town, and Jessica was 100 feet from her wolverine, who paid little attention to her. I don’t doubt that Judy is an expert about wolverines, but all mammals out of necessity are becoming less fearful of man and sharing their territory with man, or are we sharing our new territory with them?

Scattered populations of wolverines live in the northern Rockies as far south as Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, with smaller populations in Oregon and Washington in different mountain ranges. The bulk of North America’s wolverines are in mid- to northern Canada in the central and western regions and, as before mentioned, ranging south through the northern Rockies. Much of Alaska is wolverine range, also.

Judy Long went on to tell me about biologists who are trying to come up with a chemical solution that will attract wolverines only. They may just be a few years away from their goal. After that scent, stations will be set up in U.S. states where the small possibility of wolverine habitation exists. This will solve the mystery once and for all in states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin, where reports of sightings are recorded each year with the Wolverine Foundation. Sometimes a rep from the Foundation is sent to the sighting area, but so far, no physical evidence has been substantiated outside of the five northwestern states mentioned earlier.

Wolverines are the biggest member of the weasel family. They are very smart and very aggressive, and at times, it’s hard to know what is fact and what is myth. When snow is deep, they will jump from a tree to kill a deer or moose, but mammals rabbit-sized and smaller are their usual prey. They do eat road kill and other carrion.

Here’s a true story of wolverines and my good friend, John Haack. John was trying to land a helicopter in the only area free of snow in a remote area of Alaska. It was a tiny patch, and in the middle sat a wolverine. The wolverine wouldn’t move and even tried to grab a runner when John got close to the ground. Now that’s what I call fear of man.

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