In July, Idaho Public Television aired a piece on wildlife work in the state. The program includes a substantial segment (beginning about seven minutes into the show) on the wolverine- winter recreation research in the Payette National Forest, which is entering its third year this winter. Highlighting the day-to-day operations of the traps, the different skillsets required to make wolverine research run, and the personalities of the animals themselves, the piece gives a great overview of a wolverine research project. It includes some nice footage of wolverines running through the snow, stills from the project’s camera traps, and footage of a capture of a male (they say he was feisty; his faceoff with the researchers’ flashlight seemed fairly docile, although he definitely wasn’t happy about being dosed with the drugs.) If you’ve ever wanted to tag along on a wolverine capture but live in a place where there aren’t any wolverines, this film will give you a vicarious experience – without having to get up at 5 am, as the dedicated but bleary-eyed scientists and volunteers do in the show.
Once again, the Idaho Snowmobile Association deserves huge recognition for helping initiate this project and for their commitment to science and, as ISA rep Sandra Mitchell says in the piece, to not having a negative impact on wolverines. This project is an admirable example of different stakeholders working together in a constructive way – if we’re lucky, maybe it will serve as a model for future carnivore conservation endeavors in the West.
The one shortcoming in this piece is the failure to highlight the central issue of denning habitat. One of the wildlife biologists briefly mentions that female wolverines require deep snow through late spring in order to den, but if I had been setting up the narrative flow of the story, I would have structured it around this issue, since this is really the reason that there is concern about winter recreation in the first place. Disturbance to dens and reproductive females are the critical issues, and they are critical because the population reproduces extremely slowly (every kit counts) and they can’t reproduce at all without deep spring snowpack. As climate change potentially shrinks denning habitat, the issue is compounded and an understanding of the effects (or non-effects) of winter recreation becomes even more important.
Nevertheless, the program is a fun look at a great research project. Thanks to Idaho Public Television for bringing some attention to the gulo work going on in the state.