Two weeks ago, a female wolverine was killed in Utah. The animal was hit by a car near Bear Lake, at the far northern edge of the, close to the Idaho and Wyoming border. This was most likely a naturally-dispersing and young wolverine, and it’s especially sad because a female wolverine in an area without a verified reproductive population could be particularly valuable in establishing a new population node.
There’s not much more to the story beyond the bare facts – hopefully at some point we’ll learn more about her genetics and about whether or not she’s ever given birth. In the meantime, I was prompted to consider the history of the discussion about whether there are wolverines in Utah or not. In 2014, a wolverine was caught on camera in the Uintas, and the year before that, an aerial survey spotted tracks. Reproduction has not been documented in the state in recent decades, however, and the animal seen in 2014 could have come directly from Wyoming, as a wolverine was captured on camera in southern Wyoming shortly before the Uinta photos were taken. Intriguingly, there were also track sightings and reports in Wyoming, not far from Bear Lake in wolverine terms, several weeks before this female was killed.
Does this mean that Utah doesn’t have its own population of wolverines? It’s difficult to say. In the seven years that people have been reporting sightings on this blog, I’ve received 13 reports of wolverines in Utah, including one, several years ago, at Bear Lake. A number of these reports sounded credible, some less so. Only one included photos, and the photos were not conclusive.
As the wolverine’s profile continues to increase, we see more and more reports coming in, and more reports that intersect with verified documentation of a wolverine in a particular area. This suggests that if wolverines are present in a region, they may be more visible than we previously thought – less “elusive” (a word that I’m guilty of overusing) and more “sparse.” I’m finding it harder to credit the idea that hidden populations of wolverines are hanging out in pockets of the US Rockies – M56 was spotted and photographed repeatedly when he was running the length and breadth of Colorado, for example. And with the advent of smartphones and go-pro cameras and other devices that exist to document every second of a human’s life, even in the backcountry, it seems like a robust population of wolverines in an area with heavy human recreation would be documented in some confirmed way before too long. My instinct is that wolverines are still not widely established in Utah, but that animals periodically do pass through and may even stick in particular ranges for a while – and that some of the reports I’ve received from people in Utah are probably legitimate. So those of you who live in wolverine habitat, especially habitat that we consider currently unoccupied: keep your eyes open, your smartphones and other recording devices handy, and your sighting reports coming. Thanks to everyone who has submitted a report to date, and let’s hope that the next female wolverine in Utah is sighted alive and well, and preferably with kits.