Three weeks ago, my sister and I climbed Mount St. Helens. From the top, the view was spectacular, volcanic peaks floating above swells of forested country in all directions. Wolverines could easily be living in the area, but although there are records and anecdotal sightings from the Washington Cascades, wolverines have not been documented in the Oregon Cascades. This winter, using the camera-trap methodology that Audrey Magoun employed in the Wallowas in eastern Oregon, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and several other organizations will survey for wolverines in the region around Mount Washington, Mount Jefferson, and the Three Sisters.
As Audrey Magoun says in an article about the project, “Nobody thought we’d find them in the Wallowas, but we did…If Jamie [McFadden, project leader] finds wolverines in the Cascades, so close to a large human population, it will be way bigger news.”
This project is one of a range of wolverine surveys that are using camera traps to try to document wolverine presence across the Western US and into Canada. Some of these efforts are working through state wildlife departments, some are cooperative efforts between state agencies and wildlife conservation or advocacy groups, and some are pure citizen science efforts. The explosion in wolverine work through camera trapping and track surveys and citizen science in general is a little dizzying, and has left me wondering about how best to harness all the enthusiasm to ensure that the results are as scientifically useful as possible and that they reach decision makers. In efforts such as the Oregon project above, the involvement of the state wildlife department will accomplish that, but with the numerous disparate efforts elsewhere, I wonder if there’s room for more discussion about how to maximize the utility of the data. With a wide-ranging species that inhabits the west as one interconnected meta-population, a lot of localized, independent efforts risk yielding data of only limited use. Maybe we should create an opportunity for all of these projects to communicate with each other about study design, methodology, and results. Opinions on the topic would be welcome.