Without the help of Hollywood special effects and magician disappearing tricks, wolverines continue to be one of the most elusive animals on the planet. The recent wolverine news out of Utah is that biologists finally captured a wolverine, the first ever captured there, in Rich County of Northern Utah. This followed a season where wolverine sightings were verified on four different occasions in that area. On March 5th of this year, a wolverine was spotted in Yellowstone National Park—one of only six thought to reside within this 2.2-million-acre reserve. Perhaps we should re-name 2022 the year of the wolverine.
Wolverines, Gulo gulo (Gulo is Latin for "glutton". Wikipedia), are the largest members of the weasel or Mustelidae family which includes pine marten, mink, otters, ferrets, fishers and badgers.
It seems that every year someone reports a wolverine sighting somewhere in East Idaho. These almost always turn out to be badgers, which superficially resemble wolverines. A wolverine is much taller than a squat badger though. When a wolverine stands on all four feet, you can see a lot of ground clearance that badgers just don’t have. Badgers also have a striped face while a wolverine will sport a light-colored forehead. Wolverines also have a broad light-colored stripe running across the shoulders, down the sides and back across the rump. Side by side, you would not mistake the two.
Wolverines aren’t as uncommon as their elusiveness might lead one to believe. They have a circumpolar distribution consistent with boreal forest habitat and are reasonably common in Alaska, Canada, Russia and Scandinavia.
These areas are all core range for the wolverine. Where this large weasel is much less common is in the southern end of its range in the Lower 48. Research in Idaho determined that wolverines select for subalpine habitat, usually at over 8,000 feet elevation, and there just isn’t a lot of that available.
Wolverines were once much more widespread in the conterminous United States than their current distribution. It is inconclusive whether or not they were ever present in the East, but were once common in the Great Lakes regions where they have been absent for 200 years. The fact that Michigan is known as the Wolverine state has nothing to do with the animal and everything to do with the gluttonous appetite of some early settlers. California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado all once had healthy populations of wolverines, that they no longer have.
Wolverines are great wanderers. A male may have a home range of 900 square miles and a female over 300 square miles. In 2009, a young male was captured in a bobcat trap on Menan Butte, at least 50 miles from known wolverine habitat. It was later released in the Centennial Mountains in Island Park.
However, once extirpated from an island of subalpine habitat, it may be impossible for a wolverine population to become reestablished, despite the quality of the habitat. Imagine the obstacles a wolverine would face wandering from Island Park to the Cascade Mountains of Washington. That is a formidable journey. And would have to be made independently by a male and a female. Then they would have to find each other and mate in order to begin a new population.
More likely, wolverines, without human intervention, are going to be restricted to an area that extends from central Idaho east to central Wyoming and north up the Rocky Mountains of Montana.
That is where the Utah capture is so intriguing. If this animal is actually part of an establishing population in the Uinta Mountains, then the prospect for eventual expansion eastward across the Uintas and into Colorado is actually a possibility. Climate change may frustrate this, but with Colorado’s immense amount of high country, it could become a refugia of sorts—if the animals can get there.
I hope to see a wolverine in the wild before I move on to the big trail in the sky. However, I likely have almost as much chance of that as seeing Bigfoot.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho