Wolverine Presentation in Massachusetts on Thursday

A quick post – I’ll be giving a talk on wolverines in Southborough, Massachusetts, on Thursday, April 16th, at 7:30 pm. The presentation will be held at the Southborough Community House, 28 Main St, and is free and open to the public, made possible through a grant from the Southborough Community Fund and the sponsorship of the Southborough Open Land Foundation – a great group with a staff committed to local land and wildlife conservation.

This is the first time that I’ll be speaking in Massachusetts (anywhere in New England, in fact) and the first time I’ll be giving a talk far outside of wolverine range, so I’m excited to introduce the species to an audience who might be less familiar with it. I’m looking forward to a conversation about wildlife in a community where the understanding of issues such as the Endangered Species Act, public lands, and carnivore conservation is so different to the understanding of such issues out West.

I was born and raised in Massachusetts, and the emphasis placed on the idea of common good, intellectual pursuit, and the (occasionally stodgy) necessity of being precautionary about resources of all kinds has had a lasting effect on my sense of environmental ethics. So has the idea of something owed to the wider world, which, in the minds of my ancestors, probably revolved around the good behavior owed to a supreme deity, but which over time has evolved into a secular orientation towards service and reciprocity towards whatever entities, environmental or societal, have been good to you. (Jonathan Franzen recently wrote about his own fusion of New England Puritanism and environmental ethics in The New Yorker. His is not a cheery picture, and Grist made a worthwhile rebuttal to his general premise about climate change and conservation outcomes, but the brief point about the kinship between the New England and the environmentalist sense of responsibility resonated with me.) It will be good to speak to the home crowd. And despite our chilly Puritan roots, I expect that it will be a fun evening. So please drop by if you are in the area. Hope to see you there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mongolian Archaeology Presentation in Bozeman

A brief divergence from wolverines: my friend and colleague, Dr. Julia Clark, will be giving a talk next Thursday, March 5th, about her archaeological work in the Darhad Valley. The talk is at 5 pm at the Bozeman Public Library’s small conference room, and it’s free and open to the public. The event is hosted by BioRegions International, the project that I work with in Mongolia.

MongolianArchaeology

Julia did her dissertation on the transition between hunter-gatherer and herding lifestyles during Mongolia’s Bronze Age, between 5000 and 3000 years ago, with a focus on the Darhad region, which is also where my work is currently based. She’s the first woman to lead an international archaeological expedition in Mongolia, and she single-handedly facilitated multiple years of field camp that gave learning opportunities to Mongolian and American archaeology students alike. She’s also been a great supporter in various ways, including some fun field time, and a briefly exhilarating suggestion that she had unearthed a Bronze Age wolverine jaw bone (it turned out to be a fox, but it’s the thought that counts.) She also introduced me to a Mongolian guy who, several weeks later, on the other side of the country, in an entirely coincidental moment, happened to save me and my entire party from our vehicle, which was stuck in a raging river and rapidly filling with water. Long story, but I would probably still be stranded in Hovd if not for Julia and her archaeology connections. So I encourage you all to come out for the talk if you have the chance. Hope to see you there!

And if you are interested in volunteering with her project, you can find details on the application process here.

Wolverines in the Times, a New Children’s Book, and Ms. Wolverine on Crushes

First up, wolverines got a mention in the New York Times last Sunday, as part of an article about the increasing pressure put on outdoor and natural spaces by non-motorized recreation. The article makes a valid point about the way we tend to point fingers at industrial and corporate environmental malfeasance, without considering that our cumulative impact on the places we celebrate might be just as great simply by walking or skiing through them. Still, some degree of communion with nature is necessary to keep people interested in protecting the environment, and there’s ever-increasing evidence that being outdoors helps mental as well as physical health. So there’s a strong incentive not to place a lot of restrictions on people’s capacity to get outdoors.

The bigger problem is demographic – if you keep making more people, they’ll have an exponentially greater effect on the environment, in all ways, both through industrial destruction of resources, and by loving nature to death. No one will touch this topic in a meaningful way – we live in an absurdly pro-natal society, culturally and to a large extent legally, so I’ll take the opportunity to soap-box a bit: if you’re at all disinclined to have kids, just don’t. I hear a lot of talk in the vein of “I’d better have a baby now because if I don’t I might regret it later,” which seems like crazy reasoning to me. No kid should know that s/he was produced as an insurance against later regret, rather than out of a sincere desire to have a child. Likewise, having kids shouldn’t be a matter of meeting a cultural expectation. Do it if you sincerely want to bring another person into the world and are committed and able to provide the financial, emotional, and intellectual resources to give it a worthwhile life.

Not that I have anything against people who have kids (unless they have excessive numbers….then it starts to get annoying), but in a culture where we’re told that we will inevitably end up with them, I’m reinforcing the fact that you can indeed just opt out and go do something more to your liking, something that might make better use of your talents, if you don’t feel interested in parenthood.

If you do feel like parenthood is for you, however, here’s something that your child must have: a new illustrated children’s book about wolverines, by Suzanne Stutzman. The book is called Send Me a Box of Wolverines, and it’s about the natural history and potential recolonization or reintroduction of the species to Colorado. Although I haven’t seen a copy, the illustrations look fun, and $1 of each sale will be donated to the Wolverine Foundation.  You can order it on the author’s website. Who wouldn’t want a box of wolverines? But since that would likely wreak some havoc, this may be the next best thing.

And now Ms. Wolverine has some words about crushes.

gulocrush

 

Dear Ms. Wolverine,

I have a crush on a guy who doesn’t seem to notice me. I really like him but I’m too shy to talk to him. How do I get his attention? I want him to understand that I am cool like a wolverine.

Sincerely,

Sad

Dear Sad,

Crushes are annoying. They consume a lot of time and energy and usually they are based on projections instead of real compatibility or actual connections. Most of the time they don’t work out, and you are better off doing something more useful with your time than moping around about it. I hope that doesn’t seem mean and insensitive, but remember – I’m a wolverine. Kindness and sensitivity are not my strong points.

But if you really want advice on coping with a crush, the first thing you have to do is figure out whether you and this guy are actually the same species.

I bring this up because after I dispersed I found myself a nice territory. It was beautiful. High peaks, lovely meadows, rushing streams, lots of prey. There were no other wolverines around, which was both a good and a bad thing. It was good because it meant I didn’t have to fight anyone for my territory. It was bad because I started developing crushes on guys who were not wolverines.

First there was the mountain goat. He had such big, beautiful eyes, and he had such defined, muscular, juicy legs. His back was also pretty attractive. I followed him around everywhere, just admiring those muscles. But things ended badly. I probably shouldn’t go into details. It turns out that my fascination with him was not terribly healthy. For him.

Never mind. Moving on.

Next there was a bear. He looked a little like a wolverine, but bigger. He was also really mean, all the time. Since wolverines have a reputation for being badass, I thought maybe I could be like him. I followed him around for a while trying to figure out how he’d become so big and impressive, even though he tried to severely injure me every time I attempted to flirt with him over a carcass. Maybe he knew I wasn’t as interested in him as I was in the carcass? Also, abusive guys are just bad news. Don’t ever pursue a crush on a guy who growls or swats at you. After a while, I thought, why bother trying to be big and intimidating when I can just go on being small and intimidating? So I chased him off a carcass one day and discovered he was sort of a wimp. Then he went into hibernation for the winter and I realized that there was no way I’d be willing (or able) to transform myself into a bear. Who wants to sleep through the best season?! Bears are lame.

My biggest crush was the wolf. He hung out with such a cool crowd! I wanted to be like them. They were always hunting together and hanging out in a pack and acting cooperatively to raise their cubs. The wolf was really nice, too. I think he was actually kind of impressed with my attitude, which just made me have an even bigger crush. He didn’t seem to mind when I dragged off a piece of his kill now and then. Eventually we started talking over carcasses, but only when his cool friends weren’t around. Whenever they showed up, he’d tell me it was better to leave because they probably wouldn’t like me. Eventually he dispersed from his pack and while he was on his own, we hung out a lot and had some great conversations. Such a nice guy. But the more we talked and the closer we became as friends, the more I realized that we could never be a couple. He wanted to hang out all the time, like the pack animal he is, and I’m an introvert, so I needed more time to myself. He’s a wolf, and I’m a wolverine. Things don’t work that way. He eventually met a mate and seemed to be pretty happy with her. I think she’s kind of a bitch, but maybe wolves go for that. Anyway, we are still friends and I’m so glad I evolved past the crush stage.

I don’t want it to seem like I spent all my time having hopeless crushes, because most of the time I was just happy to be running around in the mountains and finding food. And also there were some weird cross-species crushes where I was the object – for example, the humans who used to follow me around and leave big wooden boxes of beaver as gifts. They even gave me a necklace, but it was ugly, and they also started putting up cameras to take my picture, which I felt was sort of creepy and stalker-esque. Anyway I knew it would never work out because humans and wolverines are too different, and eventually they lost interest and went away.

But then one day I started coming across intriguing scent markings, and then I ran into this guy and I instantly knew that he was a wolverine just like me. It was love at first sight, and it was totally different from a crush.

So that’s why I say that you have to make sure he’s the same species. In your case, it’s more a metaphorical thing than a real biological thing, but some people are compatible based on genuine similarities in character and interests, while others may seem really fascinating because they have characteristics that are so different and intriguing, and that you yourself may want to possess. In the latter case, however, it frequently turns out that you are just too tough for someone who won’t appreciate that toughness, or you’re trying to be something you don’t actually want to be. Or maybe you’re drawn to something that means that you and the person in question would be great friends, but not necessarily great partners.

And when you meet someone who is ‘your own species,’ in the metaphorical sense, they will also immediately think that you are really awesome too. That’s the great, ego-boosting thing that happens in these situations.

If this guy hasn’t even noticed you yet, there’s no way that you’ve gotten to a point where you can tell whether you’re the same species, so you have two options: 1) Stop worrying about it and do something more constructive with your time, or 2) Talk to him and assess why you have a crush on him, and whether you actually get along. It will do no good to demonstrate to him that you are “cool like a wolverine” if he turns out to be a bear. Or a mountain goat. Anyway, just talk to him and be normal about it, and see what happens.

Good luck!

Ms. Wolverine

Happy Tsagaan Sar, and Ms. Wolverine on Coping With Snow

Today is the Mongolian Lunar New Year, marking the beginning of the Year of the Wood Sheep. Here is a little synopsis of what lies in store, from the American Center for Mongolian Studies:

The year of the Sheep year is seen as a time for healing and stability after the chaos of 2014’s Horse year.
This year is the year of the Wood Sheep or Goat. The year is symbolized by the color green, meaning new growth and renewal. The main theme for the next 13 months should be on intimacy, family and close friendships. It is a year to develop a gentle heart and open acceptance on all levels. 
Another aspect of the wood sheep is creativity; it is a time for art and the cultivation of beauty. The year of the sheep is a time to pick a direction and not give up or become discouraged because Sheep can only move forward! 
With this in mind, we encourage all to renew old academic relationships, seek out new opportunities for collaboration, commit to your research goals for the year, and publish as much as they can.
Ms. Wolverine adds, “The Year of the Sheep is bound to be a good year, because sheep are tasty.”
gulotsagaansar

Traditionally, Mongolians greet their elders with blue khatag scarves as part of the New Year celebration.

 

On that note, our second missive to Ms. Wolverine deals with something that wolverines are especially equipped to advise on: snow.

 

Dear Ms. Wolverine,
I don’t have a relationship question, but I am looking for advice dealing with all the snow we’ve received in the North East. How do you maneuver through snow pack? How often do you go outside and face the elements, and how do you not get frustrated with it? I fear this winter may break many of the primates back east—whether they are trying to entertain their young, train for a marathon, or just get to work. Please advise….

-Snowbound in MA

Dear Snowbound,

First things first: can I move in with you? Our snow out here in the Rockies is pitiful this year. Here’s a fun real-time snow map that allows you to keep track of snow cover all over the country. You will note that the entire northeast currently looks like an ice-cap. We still have a fair amount of snow in the mountains, but the weather is so warm that the trees are budding and the crocuses blooming. I’m concerned. We may have to consider a mass migration.

Now, on to how to survive extreme snow conditions.

Here’s the thing: you are a human. Humans evolved in Africa where there is not a lot of snow. Therefore you are not naturally equipped to cope with these conditions – unlike the far better adapted wolverine. We have nice thick fur coats that keep us warm down to -40° F. You may also have noticed that we have gigantic feet. Wolverines, like humans, are plantigrade walkers, which means that we walk with our heels on the ground. Bears do this too. Animals in the cat and dog family walk on their toes; they are digigrade animals. Plantigrade walking is far superior in snowy conditions because you have greater surface area to support your weight. This is why wolverines can bound along in snowbound regions, while animals like wolves have more difficulty. Possibly this helps explain why we wolverines do so well in snowy regions: our competition is seasonally excluded. Importantly, too, ungulates have difficulty in deep snow conditions, which gives us an advantage that sometimes helps keep us fed, especially when those stranded ungulates are already weakened by winter conditions. But I digress. Back to the point: Even though you humans also walk plantigrade, you only have two feet, and they are not that large when you take into consideration your relative body weight. So you will sadly never be able to be as elegant or efficient in the snow as a wolverine.

I know, however, that you have that amazing capacity to substitute things made with your little monkey hands for all the natural gifts that you seem to be lacking, so I suggest that you acquire some of those fake snow feet that you people have invented – either skis or snowshoes – and put those on. Then you’ll be able to move around more easily in the snow. By “going to work,” I assume you mean “finding food,” so these items will help you corner those stranded ungulates I mentioned above. I’d recommend that you get some of those detachable claw things – arrows? bullets? – to help you dispatch them, though, because your teeth are also pretty pitiful.

Likewise, I suggest that if you are in training for a marathon, you figure out how to use skiing as a partial substitute for running. I know the impact on the muscles is different, but from what I have seen, the cardio workout can be just as good. Snow provides its own opportunities for being a great athlete. Also, you have those treadmill things, and even if you don’t like them, I suggest that seven feet of snow on the ground might constitute adequate extenuating circumstances for adopting the practice, if you insist on running.

As for entertaining your kits, here’s something fun that you can do that will help prepare them for survival as adults: take all your food out of that funny freezer thing in your house, and bury it in various snowbanks here and there in your yard. Then test your kits’ ability to sniff it out. If they can’t do it quickly, frankly they are going to need some serious help surviving in the future. If they can find it all within a reasonable time, they’re doing well, and when they disperse, you’ll know you’ve helped give them a good education.

Aside from that, though, snow is a lot of fun for adults and kits alike. You asked how often we go outside – I don’t know if you are aware of this, but we actually live outside. We only go inside when we want to destroy a cabin or something. We spend all our time outside and are experts on snow activities. So here are some other things that you can do, either on your own just for fun, or with your kits: Ski. Snowshoe. Build a snow den. Build a gigantic wolverine out of snow. Find some icefalls and climb them really fast. Find a mountain and do the same. Establish territories and have a snowball war in which you try to keep the other wolverines….I mean, the other humans out of your territory. This is also great practice for adulthood. Track wildlife – this is much more fun in the snow! Find a long hill and slide down it. Run back up and do it again. Repeat until you are hungry and need to go retrieve some food from the snowbanks in your backyard. 

Seriously, snow is fun. Especially for kids, who don’t have to stress out about “going to work” yet. Don’t be afraid to send your kits out and let them enjoy it. They will have great memories. And find ways to appreciate this unique winter even if you are an adult. Maybe it’s an opportunity to get out and about by new means, see things in a new way, and gain a new perspective on the human place in the natural world.

I know that people in New England and especially in Boston are very stressed out about all the snow. My final admonition is this: Remember that Mother Nature is the boss. Your trains aren’t running on time because you got seven feet of snow? People’s roofs are collapsing? Those hives of human activity called ‘cities’ are basically shut down? What did you expect? Welcome to climate change. It’s going to wreak havoc on my home….and probably yours. We’re in this together.

Tell me your address, and when you stash all that food in the snowbanks for your kits, be sure to include some moose, a bit of deer, maybe a beaver or two….I’ll be along once I run my own cross-country ultra marathon to reach my new home.

See you soon!

Ms. Wolverine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ms. Wolverine on Co-Sleeping With Your Kits

Yes, I’ve been really, really horrible at sticking to a schedule with this blog. Since Wolverine Birthday fell on a weekend, I made a decision to turn the computer off for a change and spend time outdoors doing real things. When you’re primarily self-employed, you run a huge risk of creating a never-ending work cycle, much of which involves sitting in front of a screen. This is even worse when you work with colleagues across multiple time zones. Sometimes I find myself emerging from a haze of communication with various parties only to discover it’s 2:00 a.m. and I still have some other deadline to meet before the sun rises. You have to draw a line somewhere, so I decided that it would be a mostly screen-free weekend.

So first: Happy (belated – though since there’s variation in actual birth days, it’s probably all okay) Wolverine Birthday! Here is an image of congratulations to all the wolverine mothers out there. Also the wolverine fathers, but they are out getting food or patrolling territory, so didn’t make it into the picture.

DSCN3440Now to give the stage to Ms. Wolverine, who has been taking questions from those faced with problems or difficulties for which a wolverine might have particular insight. Many thanks to all who submitted their various quandaries. Of course, I want to issue a little disclaimer here: as you probably discern by her name, Ms. Wolverine is a wolverine. Her advice may or may not actually be appropriate for humans to follow. Please use your judgement. For example, I would not personally encourage my friends to evict their children from home at age two. So please bear in mind that what is appropriate for Gulo gulo may not be for Homo sapiens. You will, however, definitely learn a bit about wolverine life history.

And now – our first question is from a new mom. Ms. Wolverine thought that this was the appropriate query to answer first, in honor of Wolverine Birthday.

Dear Ms. Wolverine,
We co-sleep with our baby. Whenever Mama leaves his side, he wakes up and fusses. How will we ever have sex again?
-Anonymous
Dear Anonymous,
When your kits are very young, they are demanding. This is a difficult time for new parents, but especially for new moms. Your kit depends on you for everything, and all of your attention must be devoted to attending to its needs. Pretty soon your fur is matted, you’re covered in baby scat, your den is a mess, you can barely get out the door to hunt up a pika, never mind scavenge a juicy bighorn sheep or mountain goat, and then you’re faced with the need to dig out a new den to move your kits out of the messy natal den, which is just a big pain – in short, you’re totally exhausted by the energetic demands of having brought a kit to term and, after the birth, nursing it and taking care of it. Nursing in particular is very energetically demanding, and it stresses us all out, and it makes our minds and bodies do weird things, and changes our priorities. So this is a challenging adjustment for parents who are not used to being tied down by biological needs other than their own.
While your kit is this small, of course he is going to need to sleep with you. You have to keep him warm, safe, and fed. But cheer up, because pretty soon your kit will not be this small. In a few months he will be independently mobile, and you can encourage him to leave your side from time to time and explore on his own. Also, once he is finished nursing, it is no longer necessary to sleep beside him. Even if he fusses now when you leave his side, you can encourage your kit, as he gets older and more capable of logic, to see that the world is a big and interesting place and that some independent exploration and time alone are good things. This will be easier when he can do something other than lie there flailing around and mewling – when he can crawl, hold things with his paws, and chew on bones or scraps of hide, he will be more distractable and less inclined to notice you are gone. 
Also, sometimes we are inclined to be very protective and overly involved with every aspect of a kit’s life, and keep it with us all the time, but the point of having a kit is to allow it to experience the world on its own, disperse, establish its own territory, and, hopefully, successfully reproduce in order to pass on your genes and sustain the population. So it’s good to begin to encourage some independence early. At an appropriate time, you can perhaps just leave the den for a bit while the kit is sleeping, even if he whimpers and fusses for a while. He will learn to take in more of his surroundings instead of just looking for you, and this will serve him well, because if he grows up and is still just waiting for his mom to take care of him, and looking around all the time for her, it will be very easy for him to miss the mountain lion or wolf sneaking up on him to kill him.
By June or July, when mating season begins, your kit will be full size and you can task him with going to hunt a squirrel or something, and then hope that he is still hunting the squirrel when you encounter your mate on one of his and your overlapping territorial patrols. Then you can have sex without kit interference.
Oh wait. I forgot. Human mating season is perpetual.
Here’s my suggestion if you want to have sex before official mating season: does your kit nap? Do you always nap with him? If there is any time when your kit is asleep on his own, track down your mate and have sex then, even if it is in the middle of the day in some strange location. Who knows, it might make things more interesting and compensate for the lack of frequency by substituting… variety? Creativity? I’m a wolverine, I don’t know for sure how all this works with humans. I think it’s logical to have a mating season and to keep it separate from intensive-small-kit-rearing season. But I surmise that since you are social animals, you need to maintain your bonds with your mate, and that more frequent sex allows this and thereby benefits the ultimate success of your family, your kit, and your species. So therefore I encourage you to be creative about time and location. As an alternative, since you are social animals with extensive social networks, see if one of your close friends or relatives could watch your kit for a little while at their den if he absolutely refuses to nap without you. Social animals like being cooperative about helping raise each other’s babies, especially if they are from the same community; just look at wolves. Although if you do ask one of your friends to watch your kit, I encourage you not to go into detail as to why, because she probably does not need to know. 
Aside from that, though, don’t forget that being a new mother is full of all kinds of challenges, but that you are going to do fine at figuring them all out. Taking good care of your kit is not the hardest part; if you have any maternal instinct, which I know you do, you’ll be good at it. The difficult bit is figuring out how to stop being too involved at critical points, and fostering the independence they need to become successful autonomous adults – which will give you the time you need to reconnect with your mate. We generally make it clear to our kits that they need to disperse before age two – it’s necessary, but so hard to know that you are sending them out to possibly die in search of their own territory. Such are the emotional travails of motherhood.
Good luck!
Ms. Wolverine

 

 

 

 

Ms. Wolverine and Wolverine Birthday

Tomorrow is Wolverine Birthday – the day that we use as shorthand to mark the approximate birth date of wolverine kits all over the world. This begins the wolverine denning period, which lasts until around May 15th.

Coincidentally, Wolverine Birthday happens to overlap with another, slightly less important, holiday, Valentine’s Day. In the interest of diversifying our cultural understanding of romance, I usually challenge readers to come up with a way to celebrate a wolverine-themed Valentine’s Day with their partners. For me, this would involve skiing, but since it’s been about 60 F for the past three weeks here in Bozeman, it looks like doing some sort of extreme run might be more realistic. Bringing your partner a haunch of elk instead of roses or chocolates might be an alternative as well, but I’m sure you can all come up with your own creative ideas – for those out West, the fact that the Park Service is offering free admission for the weekend might provide a bit of inspiration. If you share your story here, I will (eventually; I still have to make them) send you a wolverine sticker, for car or notebook or computer, that you can use to show your allegiance to wolverine conservation and the gulo lifestyle. Bonus if you manage to time parturition for tomorrow, and double bonus if you give birth in a snow cave.

Also, some time ago someone ended up on this blog looking for relationship advice. I know this because I can see the search terms that bring people to the blog, and I just about fell off my chair when I saw that particular item – but it did lead me to ponder what sort of relationship advice a wolverine would give, and Dear Ms. Wolverine was born. Ms. Wolverine makes periodic appearances to dispense her wisdom with regards to the life philosophy of wolverines. For the next week, if you have questions about how to handle a relationship, make a career choice, or deal with difficult friends or family members, submit a question in the comments and Ms. Wolverine will respond. She’ll respond a la wolverine, so if it’s truly a matter dear to your heart and you want someone empathetic, who will give you advice that a primate might be able to follow, I’d recommend looking for another advisor. But if you are simply interested in the wolverine perspective on your problem, leave her a note. (If you don’t want to attach your name to a public comment, you can also send a question to rebecca at nrccooperative dot org.)

 

 

 

 

Wolverine News From All Over

Wolverines have made the news fairly frequently over the past few weeks. Here are a few articles that just came out, and a few that I missed posting earlier.

First, another update on the Alberta wolverine research, which I discussed briefly last week, can be found here. This article is longer and does a much better job of discussing the varied factors that influence where wolverines appear on the landscape.

Second, DNA tests confirm that the wolverine recently spotted in California is the same wolverine first detected in 2008. An article in the LA Times contends that this means that the animal is nearing the end of its life, since wolverines are generally thought to average about a ten year lifespan, and this animal is at least seven. I’ve heard rumors that a wolverine known to be much older was recently recaptured on a project, however, so let’s hope that the Sierra wolverine proves to be equally long-lived – maybe by then a female will find her way to California as well.

In the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana, forest biologists are continuing a project to assess the wolverine population, using DNA and Audrey Magoun’s camera techniques. This is one of the many wolverine projects that have sprung up over the past few years, indication of a heightened interest in a species that was once overlooked. Another ongoing project continues the work begun in Idaho to assess the influence of motorized and non-motorized backcountry recreation on wolverines. Operating for a second year in the Tetons, this study was featured in a June 2014 article that I missed posting because I was in Mongolia. It’s worth the read, and it’s great to think how much this project has accomplished since it started in 2009. Although this article has a typically controversy-generating headline (“Can wolverines and backcountry skiers coexist?”), the alarm is misplaced. The answer to the question is “yes,” so let’s dispense with the need to get people worked up. The real question revolves around whether either of these snow-obligate species will continue to prosper in the era of diminishing snowpack.

In Washington, researchers recently captured a 30 pound (!) male wolverine, as part of the final season of the decade-long North Cascades wolverine project. The article is fairly detailed and I’d like to focus a little more on this project in a separate post, but in the meantime, four observations. One – that’s an impressively large wolverine! Two, I’m so glad to hear that at least a few people did something interesting on Super Bowl Sunday – not just this year, but last year as well. Three, I’m assuming they named this wolverine “Special K” after the ketamine used in the capture, which betrays a somewhat dark aesthetic on the part of the researchers. Four, and most interesting, it appears that this wolverine is the son of Rocky, the original male occupying the area. Rocky vanished and was replaced by his son, Logan, who has now moved to a different location, apparently displaced by his half-brother Special K – the one named after the drug. Definitely some interesting social interaction data, but it also really piques my interest in how wolverines maintain enough genetic diversity to avoid fatal bottle-necks, since these males are taking over territories that most likely overlap with those of their mothers and/or their sisters.

Also in Washington, a news video and an article with a second video feature work on wolverines near Snoqualmie Pass. This is interesting, but the reporter does the same thing that generally drives me crazy when people talk about wolverines: he equates presence with a reproductive population, stating that wolverines are “moving south in spite of climate change,” which implies that there’s a resident population. I’m excited to see wolverine detections in new locations, but there are two things to keep in mind: first, as I mentioned, a wolverine or two is not necessarily a breeding population, and second, are these detections the result of wolverines moving in to new locations and expanding south, or are we finding them because we now have the motivation and the technology to look in places where we weren’t looking before? (I incline towards the former because I’m invested in the idea that wolverines are recolonizing, but that may just be my bias. It’s a question worth asking. Cameras and DNA make it easier to ‘observe’ the landscape in a sustained way that was unavailable to us until recently.) In any case, it’s nice to see yet another study utilizing Audrey Magoun’s camera technique.

Finally, for Montana residents, if you have ever felt the need to declare your allegiance to the conservation of climate-sensitive wildlife with a license plate for your (hopefully hybrid) car, you can now buy a specialty plate featuring a wolverine. The proceeds benefit the Swan Ecosystem Center and Northwest Connections, environmental groups that help monitor wildlife and work towards ecosystem conservation.

Wolverines may or may not be expanding their range, but interest in wolverines definitely is. It’s exciting to see.