Backcountry Skiers for Wolverines

In April of 2009, all three staff members of the Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative – Jason, the executive director, Lydia, the associate director, and I, the project manager – strapped on our skis and set out from the Bradley-Taggart Parking Lot in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Our objective: ski to Idaho, on the other side of the mountains, and see if we crossed wolverine tracks in the process. Accompanying us were eight friends, all ardent backcountry skiers and amateur wolverine biologists. As we toiled up the south fork of Avalanche Canyon and down Alaska Basin, we chatted about how this ought to be an annual event. When we stumbled across wolverine tracks just below timberline, the idea solidified into a necessity – Jackson, Wyoming had to have a citizen science effort that would capitalize on dedicated backcountry skiers’ enthusiasm for hanging out in wolverine habitat.

There was a major challenge, however; the wolverine is so little known that few people know what it or its tracks look like. People who do know wolverine are generally enthusiastic about seeing one, or its tracks, but those tracks are easily confused with marten, a much more common timberline species. NRCC gets consistent reports of wolverine sightings in the Tetons, and we know that the range is saturated with wolverines, so these sightings are probably reliable. Without documentation, however, we can’t truly count a sighting of a wolverine or its tracks as verified. So the first step in a citizen science project involves standardizing documentation and reporting. With this in mind, NRCC applied for a small grant from the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole to develop a pocket-sized card that backcountry users can take with them to id tracks and appropriately document the sighting. We also proposed a series of community presentations, the development of a website for reporting sightings, and a Second Annual Teton Traverse for Wolverine.

Last week, we were excited and honored to receive news that the grant was funded. We look forward to a winter and spring of wolverine-focused events in Jackson and the park. If you are interested in further details or in participating, please leave a comment here. Updates will follow on this website and on NRCC’s.

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