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.

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January Wolverine Talks in Colorado

To all Denver and Boulder area residents interested in learning more about wolverine ecology and citizen science: mark your calendars. Jason Wilmot of the Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative, who has worked on the Glacier National Park and Absaroka Beartooth Wolverine Projects, will be giving a series of presentations in Colorado later this month. The talks will focus on wolverine science, and will provide information about how to identify tracks and sign of both wolverines and lynx. Bring your enthusiasm and your questions.

Here is the schedule so far:

January 27th, American Mountaineering Center, Golden

January 28th, Denver Zoo, Denver

January 29th, REI, Boulder

There’s also a possibility that he will be talking in Vail, although that is not confirmed. In February, Jason will be giving talks in Wyoming and Idaho, including lectures and field trips, so check back for more details about all of these events as the schedule is confirmed.

And finally, unrelated to the lecture tour, but of interest because the bighorn sheep shares the wolverine’s habitat, here is a short video from Conservation Media on the possible effects of climate change on sheep. This represents another instance of scientists wrestling with the question of how global warming will affect biodiversity. Gulos are not the only creature threatened; entire montane ecosystems will be disrupted. The topic is sobering, but the film is fun to watch because of the great footage. Conservation Media has done work for the Wolverine Foundation as well, and their films are consistently high quality and bring attention to wildlife and environmental issues throughout the West. If wolverines and sheep could make their own advocacy pieces, perhaps they would look like Conservation Media’s work.

 

Wolverine as filmmaker. One of the most devoted wolverine fans - and readers of this blog - is wildlife artist Jeff Cain of England. He was kind enough to share some of his work with permission to post it here. Thanks, Jeff! (Image copyright Jeff Cain.)

Wolverine Events in Colorado

For Boulder and Denver-area wolverine enthusiasts, two events next week offer the chance to meet Doug Chadwick, author of The Wolverine Way.

In Boulder, Chadwick will speak on Monday, December 6th, at 6 p.m. at the Integral Center on 2805 Broadway Ave. In Denver, he’ll speak on Tuesday, December 7th, at 6 p.m, at the Mercury Cafe, 2199 California St. Copies of the book will be available, and the author will answer questions and sign books after the presentation.

A short video about the book features some great shots of majestic Glacier country, not to mention fantastic footage of wolverines being goofy and playful. Doug is a very entertaining speaker, and the book is excellent, so if you happen to be in the Denver area, be sure to attend.  If not, stay tuned for more information about wolverine events across the West this winter and spring, including opportunities to learn more about tracking and reporting track sightings, as well as a chance to participate in tracking field trips, with Jason Wilmot of NRCC and the Absaroka-Beartooth Project.

To whet your appetite for wolverine information, check out Conservation Media’s new short film on the Wolverine Foundation’s work, featuring an interview with Jeff Copeland –  a nice three-minute synopsis of what TWF does, and why wolverines are amazing. It’s great to see more multi-media information out there.

And speaking of tracks, here’s a post from Conservation Media from back in April, 2010, documenting a sighting of wolverine tracks crossing a highway in Montana. Note the inclusion of the author’s hand for scale, and the multiple photos of individual tracks as well as the gait – including some great shots of the distinctive three-by gait. This is excellent documentation. I thought I’d bring it to the attention of any citizen scientists out there, as an example of how to photograph wolverine tracks in a way that can be considered verified.

Tracks!

On Saturday I went skiing in Death Canyon, and on the way down, took a detour to follow some interesting tracks. They caught my attention for a couple of reasons; the distinct and very regular 2x gait, and the trough through the snow.

The regular 2x gait and the trough around the prints prompted me to follow the tracks

They were clearly made by a medium-sized animal moving determinedly across the landscape. There aren’t that many candidates for tracks like these. They appeared too big to be marten, although in places the stride seemed short for a wolverine. I followed the tracks for about a mile; the animal would move rapidly across open spaces, and then duck under a grove of trees, look around, occasionally put its paws onto the snowy bark of a pine and, presumably, look up to see if there was anything to eat, before returning fairly quickly to its original course to the north, hauling across open meadow towards the next grove.  To the sides of the prints, on the edges of the trough, the drag marks of long fur were occasionally visible. On close examination, I could see claw marks at the front of the tracks, and in a few places, where I crawled under the trees to examine the tracks against harder snow, I could see imprints of widespread toes and, once, the impression of what appeared to be a chevron-shaped interdigital pad. Canid tracks have a distinct triangular shape, and if it had been a cat, the claw marks probably wouldn’t be visible. Odds were good that I was tracking a weasel.

Impressions of clawmarks and a widespread print indicate that this is not a canid or felid

I was at about 7100 feet, which seemed low for a wolverine, but not impossible, especially given the abundance of game at this elevation; squirrel and hare tracks were visible near the trees, and moose wandered the slopes. The 2x tracks eventually went straight up a steep, downfall-tangled hill; I followed them upslope just long enough to collect what I had been sure would show up eventually: scat. The scat was small too, but I tucked it into a folded square of paper and then headed back.

When I showed the photos to Jason on Monday, he ranked the tracks “probable” – too big for marten, all wrong for wolf. The only other possibility was an otter; the tracks weren’t far from Phelps Lake and Jason said that he’s seen otter tracks across high mountain passes miles away from water. But he also said that otters tend to place their feet directly beside each other, rather than offset in the way these tracks were. Hopefully we can send the scat to the lab and that might provide a more definitive answer. In the meantime, though, it was a good way to spend a Saturday in the Tetons.

Another single print - look closely, and the interdigital pad is almost visible

Tracks in the Tetons - to the left are the probable wolverine tracks, to the right those of Homo sapiens skierensis