5 Year Wolverine Study Wraps Up…And Starts Over

Feb 15, 2019

A wolverine ponders a sample station in the western Wind River Range.
Credit Wyoming Game and Fish Department

Several western states have spent the last five years trying to count the shy and rare wolverine, a high mountain scavenger in the weasel family. Wildlife agencies in Wyoming, Washington, Idaho and Montana set up camera traps and collected hair samples from the alpine scavenger in 183 locations and the findings are gratifying, said Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist Nichole Bjornlie.

"Pretty much everywhere we looked—not necessarily every single station but every single ecosystem I guess we looked at—we found wolverine."

Wolverines are wide ranging—roaming up to 500 miles. Bjornlie said that’s why it was important to undertake a multi-state study, an unprecedented approach to wildlife research.

Bjornlie said states probably won’t prioritize re-introduction to any specific regions because wolverines were found everywhere in their current range. Instead, she said, the priority will be to make sure populations are connected to each other so they have the healthiest genetics possible.

Bjornlie said they didn’t find large numbers, but that wolverines are out there. Six were observed in Wyoming and Bjornlie said the good news is three of those are females.

"One of these females was photographed at the exact same location that we photographed a male," she said. "[That] doesn't necessarily mean there’s reproduction, but we obviously have all the pieces there to have reproduction."

Bjornlie said, the states will now start over, conducting another five-year study of the species. The study was so successful that now other states like Colorado, California and Utah are considering joining the effort. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently evaluating whether wolverines should be listed as endangered because warming temperatures may be impacting their high mountain habitat.