Wolverine Killed in Utah

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.

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5 thoughts on “Wolverine Killed in Utah

  1. Too bad for the loss of the female near Bear Lake. Any reports of any sightings along the east face of the Beartooth Mountains (between Red Lodge, Montana and Cody, Wyoming)? I own some property along the Clarks Fork River a few miles north of the Wyoming line, and while we’ve seen a noticeable increase in grizzly bears, I’ve not heard any reports of wolverines in the higher elevations.

    • Interesting question. There certainly are (or have been in the relatively recent past) wolverines in the high country of the northeastern Absaroka-Beartooth range. Trappers took a number of animals out of the Boulder drainage in the early 2000s (I think. Some of the dates may be approximate here) and we know that there were wolverines in the western Absaroka range. But the Absaroka-Beartooth project (2005-2009) surveyed pretty intensively out of Sunlight Basin west of Cody for several years, and found very little evidence of wolverines on the east side of Yellowstone. That doesn’t mean much in terms of what might be going on in there now, but your observation does tally with some recent scientific work. I would certainly be very interested in any reports, especially with evidence, from this area. Let me know if you hear anything. Thanks!

      • I’ll let you know if I hear anything. I’m very familiar with the Sunlight Basin area. We’re you aware of the supposed wolverine sighting near Havre, Montana earlier this year? I thought it a little unusual since Havre is some distance from any real mountains. The photos I saw online showed it running across an open field, but never heard if the Montana F&G ever determined for certain that it was a wolverine.

      • Yes. Bob Inman, the furbearer coordinator for MT FWP, who directed a pretty big wolverine project for WCS for many years, said on the record and in the press that he felt it was a wolverine. I tend to err on the side of caution, but that photo was pretty convincing (for something taken from a great distance) to me as well. It’s even more interesting in light of the fact that M56 was shot several weeks later, not very far from where that photo was taken. I bet it was a wolverine. We know that wolverines cross non-habitat as they travel from mountain range to mountain range, both here in the US, and also in Mongolia. So it’s not too surprising. The big trick is to keep people from getting confused about the fact that a wolverine spotted in the plains of Montana or North Dakota does not mean that those areas can support a wolverine population. Wolverines range widely, but the population depends on the core habitat, not necessarily on the interstices.

        Definitely keep me posted on wolverine sightings around Cody! Thanks for the comments.

  2. So sad to have lost the aforementioned female! Thanks for a well written and thoughtful piece; I enjoyed reading it. I live in semi-rural south central Alaska and I’ve seen wolverine tracks a few times and believe I did view one from a distance once although the animal was in shade under the boreal forest canopy and hence I couldn’t be certain it was a wolverine.

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