Kylie Paul, Rockies & Plains Representative
Russell Talmo, Wolverine Project Assistant
It’s not every day that you get to see a wolverine. In fact, wolverine sightings are extremely rare, even if you live in wolverine habitat. That’s why Defenders and other organizations are enlisting the help of outdoor enthusiasts, backcountry users and wolverine fans across the West to report any wolverine sightings or observations of wolverine tracks. If you are traveling in the backcountry in the western United States (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Utah) and see a wolverine or wolverine track, we want to hear about it. And the Backcountry Wolverine Watchers project makes it pretty simple.
Several research institutes have reporting pages on their websites that gather observational data on wolverines. These observations provide helpful baseline information for biologists in the U.S. and Canada about one of North America’s least-known carnivores. Defenders is working to help these organizations collect more observations, as we’re always working to raise awareness about the magnificent wolverine and its proposed Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection.
These elusive creatures spend most of their time in remote and rugged high alpine terrain in the West – some of the same places that backcountry skiers, hikers, horsemen and others visit year-round. As a result, those backcountry users have the highest likelihood of spotting a wolverine or wolverine sign. So, Defenders is spreading the word to local outdoor organizations and retailers and at outdoor-focused events, handing out wolverine identification cards [PDF] and an informational poster that explains how to identify and report wolverine sign to the websites that pool the information. By reaching out to these recreation-loving folks that share an intrinsic appreciation for wild country and wildlife, we are raising awareness and gaining invaluable information. Plus, when a hiker or skier knows that they live and play in valuable wolverine habitat, they are more likely to ‘tread softly’ while they are out there.
Most of us have never seen a wolverine, so it can be pretty exciting if you do see one – or if you see something that you think is a wolverine. There are plenty of mistaken identifications out there – people commonly confuse badgers, marmots, small bears, and domestic dogs for wolverines. Even if you live in a western state where wolverines occur, it is darn unlikely that the creature you’re staring at is a wolverine. The best bet? Take a photo! Without one, it is really tough to verify what you saw. With that photo, record as much information as possible: color and markings, size, location (get GPS point or find it on a map), terrain, speed of travel, time and date.
One handy thing about the elusive wolverine — just like anything else walking in the snow — they leave tracks behind! So again, if you’re way up high in snowy, mountainous terrain and come across a five-toed track (canines and cats have 4 toes), look more closely. Characteristics of a wolverine track include: 4-inch wide print; five toes, chevron-shaped interdigital pad, and oval-shaped heel pad; and prints are close together compared to those of a wolf, lynx, or mountain lion since wolverines have shorter legs.
Again, most importantly, photograph the track so others can verify it. Make sure you include something in it for size scale (like keys, cell phone, pen or coins). Measure or estimate the size of individual prints and distance between tracks (length and width between tracks). Describe the track, the snow conditions and time since last snow, note time and date, and locate the area on a map – ideally, take a GPS point.
If you’re lucky enough to see a wolverine track or a wolverine itself, please then report it to the relevant site:
If you’re in the western U.S., go to The Wolverine Foundation.
If you’re in Canada, go to Wolverine Watch.
If you’re in Wyoming, go to Nature Mapping: Wolverine Project.
For more information about Wolverines and Defenders work to help protect them, or if you wish to comment on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed ESA protection, Click Here.