Volunteer Opportunities For Winter 2012-2013

Wolverine field season is approaching, and there are a few opportunities for people who are interested in volunteering and/or helping out.

In Canada, Wolverine Watch is looking for backcountry athletes to participate in tracking, and is asking for reports of track and/or wolverine sightings in Banff, Yoho, and Kootenay National Parks. There’s some more information here, including information on how to contact project director Tony Clevenger if you want to volunteer.

In the US, Cascadia Wild, based in Portland, Oregon, is offering wolverine tracking workshops on Mt. Hood this winter. Contact information for registration is here.

The Friends of Scotchman Peaks’ on-going wolverine monitoring project is up for funding from Zoo Boise again this year, and they are seeking votes in order to win a grant. You can vote for them at the Zoo Boise site; the deadline in October 28th.

We are still seeking reliable reports – preferably with documentation – of wolverines throughout Wyoming, to gain a better understanding of their distribution in the state. You can report those sightings either here, or by contacting the Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative. Laminated pocket-sized wolverine track ID cards will be available this winter at the NRCC office for skiers who want them.

There will doubtless be other opportunities in the US Rockies this winter, so keep in touch with your local conservation organizations. Wolverine “citizen science” is all the rage these days, so there should be plenty of chances to get out and track. (And if anyone wants to make the wolverine-interested public aware of specific programs, let me know; I’ll post them.)

Wolverine weather has descended on the West, and I’ve been caught up in recovering from what we sometimes refer to as “reentry shock,” that annoying process of waking up each morning and remembering that you’re supposed to be speaking English instead of Mongolian. I’ve had some good wolverine-related adventures in the past few days, though, and should be back to updating this blog soon.

Doug Chadwick in British Columbia

Author Doug Chadwick will be speaking in British Columbia on Monday, October 17th, at an event hosted by the local Sierra Club. The talk starts at 7 pm at the Comox Presbyterian Church, 725 Aspen Rd in Comox. Doug’s a great speaker and this is a chance for wolverine enthusiasts from Canada to hear him spin his captivating tales and get a shot of gulo inspiration. Enjoy!


Climate change meeting in Jackson

The Greater Yellowstone Coalition, an advocacy group based in Bozeman, Montana, will feature Doug Chadwick as the keynote speaker at its annual meeting in Jackson, Wyoming, on September 30th. The meeting will address climate change in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, a theme of obvious importance to wolverines in the region. With Chadwick as the keynote speaker, gulos will certainly feature in the discussions at the event, but wolverines aren’t the only creatures at risk – whitebark pine, bears, Clark’s nutcrackers, and a host of other iconic and less-well-known species are at risk. It’s a topic worth discussion and, hopefully, action. If you’ll be in the area, you can register for the conference here.

Further afield, one of the four wolverines that have allegedly killed a number of cats in Kitimat, British Columbia, was captured today. At nine kilograms and less than a meter long, hopefully the animal will help ease the fears of residents who worry that the marauding wolverines are capable of hunting down humans. In the photo attached to the article, the gulo looks small and bewildered. The glob of drool hanging from its jaw is fairly characteristic of wolverines in traps, lest rumors start that the animal is rabid – our wolverine frequently foam at the mouth when stressed. The captured wolverine will apparently be relocated, although this isn’t confirmed. In the meantime, if you are in the area – or if your pets share habitat with any wildlife capable of doing them harm – remember to keep your cats indoors, especially at night, and your dogs on a leash.

Pets in Wolverine Habitat

I was saddened to read of the loss of a number of household pets, apparently to a family of wolverines, in British Columbia over the past several months. According to articles, over 60 cats are missing and the deaths of at least two of these felines are confirmed to have been at the jaws of wolverines. My sympathies are with anyone who has lost a companion in Kitimat.

Like many people who are involved with wildlife work, I came to a love of animals through my own childhood pets. As ambassadors of the non-human world, pets play a vital role in building a sense of understanding and compassion for our wild neighbors. Pet owners, however, must take responsibility for their animals, both to prevent wildlife from being killed, and to keep their pets safe. In recent years, as fishers and coyotes have returned to the town in Massachusetts where I grew up, my parents have adopted an indoor-cats-only policy. This seems to be the wisest solution for everyone. Likewise, dogs should be kept leashed around wildlife, especially in areas where coyotes and wolves are known to live.

Human-wildlife conflict is always frustrating, and living a commitment to conservation is always a challenge. I arrived in Wyoming in 2008 to work on wolves, but was disillusioned by the degree of rancor over the species. Wolverines, I quickly realized, were a much nicer species to work on, because there was almost no conflict around them. I hope that the occasional upsurge in incidents like those in British Columbia doesn’t breed intolerance for a species that exists in such sparse numbers. Quotes in one article, expressing concern about children being attacked, and particularly about humans being ‘disembowled in a matter of minutes’ are probably over the top. Wolverines kill winter-weakened large ungulates and chase bears and wolves away from prey, but as far as I know, they haven’t been recorded actually killing a bear, as the mayor claims in the article.  And I don’t know of any incident in which a wolverine has even attacked a human (defending themselves when backed into a corner doesn’t count) – let alone attempted to hunt one.

Nevertheless, as with pets, it pays to take precautions with your children, especially since wolverines are possessive of prey. Firstly, keep your pets inside as much as possible. Secondly, if the pets must be outside and your children are with the pets, make sure that your children understand that – as brutal a truth as this might be – they shouldn’t take on a wolverine if the wolverine has the pet and is intent on defending its food source. Living with wild neighbors isn’t always going to be easy, but the wildlife bears the brunt of the contact, in terms of habitat loss and direct and indirect mortality. Occasional losses in the other direction shouldn’t be taken as an excuse to declare a hysterical campaign against the species, and people living in wildlife habitat – children included – have to learn this. Again, my sympathies are with those who have lost pets in this and other wildlife incidents, and especially with children who love their animals. But we have to give wildlife the room it needs, and do what we can to minimize conflict.

Finally, at risk of sounding incredibly redundant, I reiterate: keep your pets indoors or under close watch. Wolverines return to habitual food sources – they patrol cliff bands from which wild goats regularly fall, they come back to live traps to check for more bait, they return to carcasses they’ve stashed under the snow during the winter, and they will certainly haunt a place where there’s an abundance of easy prey. Wolverines have huge territories and they patrol them widely, so they might disappear for a time – but that doesn’t mean the pets are safe; the wolverines will eventually drop by to check again for an easy meal. For everyone’s sake – make sure they don’t find it.