Washington’s Most Elusive Predator – The Wolverine

[Article by contributing writer Melissa Grant, wildlife enthusiast and pet trainer at Miss Lola’s Academy for Wayward Dogs]

When you think of Wolverines what comes to mind? Do you think of the Marvel comics character James Howlett (Logan) named Wolverine because of his short stature, long claws and ferocity? Or are you old like me and the name conjures up memories of Red Dawn, Patrick Swayze and a Communist invasion? Perhaps you are a Michigan transplant and hail originally from “the Wolverine State.” 

Or maybe you think of the elusive animal, but maybe not because it would be exceedingly rare to see one of these creatures in the wild. Rare given that it avoids populated areas. Elusive because they prefer remote cold mountainous areas and considering their numbers have steadily declined since the 19th century. I spoke briefly via email with Gary Koehler Ph. D. – a retired carnivore research scientist about this fascinating animal.

The largest land-dwelling member of the Mustelidae family-consisting of weasels, badgers, otters and mink, Wolverines are stocky, muscular carnivorous animals that look like small bears. An adult Wolverine is about the size of a medium sized dog. Says Koehler, “Males may weigh as much as 40 pounds, but rarely more; while adult females may weigh half that, 15-20 pounds on average.”

They have thick dark brown fur with a lighter colored stripe from shoulders to the base of their hair. This physical characteristic, along with tell-tale mustelid stink, led early indigenous people to call them something that roughly translates to “skunk bear.” Their thick, frost-resistant fur is popular among hunters and trappers as parka lining in very cold conditions. 

According to Conservation Northwest, the primary reason for the Wolverines decline and extirpation from the lower 48: “Wolverines were probably never very numerous, but following years of heavy trapping and indiscriminate poison-baiting aimed at other carnivores, they were lost from most of their U.S. historical range by the early 1900s. Today, they are thought to number just 300 in the lower 48 states.”

Primarily scavengers, they have an awesome sense of smell and feed mostly on carrion. But like their overseas cousin the Honey Badger, they are known to fearlessly and savagely take on animals five times their body weight. When they do predate, it is on a wide variety of species including squirrels, chipmunks, beavers, marmots, moles, gophers, rabbits, voles, mice, rats, shrews, deer, sheep, goats, cattle and elk. Wolverines have few predators of their own except for wolves and occasionally brown bears. 

Wolverines breed in late spring to early fall and like bears, females have delayed implantation – until early winter with kits being born in spring. In years of food scarcity, females may not reproduce at all. Males have very large territories (400 square miles or more) that overlap with several females, but they avoid sharing space with other males. These very large territories put them in conflict with human development.

According to an October Everett Herald Net article, the family line of Wolverines that once lived in Washington are no longer. “The historical population was extirpated, totally gone,” said John Rohrer, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service Methow Valley Ranger District.  This means the Wolverines now seen in Washington, in part, dispersed from Canada. However, Koehler noted, “Their large home ranges and remote wilderness makes them difficult to count and those wandering north of the border may just be part of their routine.”  It is believed there may be only 300 individuals left in the United States. 

The good news is there has been a flurry of Wolverine activity in Washington in the past few years. Trail camera sightings near Snoqualmie and a birder looking for birds got some awesome video on Glacier Peak. Unfortunately, it is believed the male wolverine seen on the camera was struck and killed near North Bend in June of this year. This incident highlights how important wildlife crossings are. You can help this cause by supporting the I90 Wildlife Watch .

Despite all the evidence suggesting that the Wolverine should be listed as an endangered species, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) still has them listed as ‘least concern’ after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service abandoned proposed endangered species designation. You can help this rare species stay viable by supporting Conservation Northwest’s efforts to get federal protections.  

[Photos: Wikipedia]

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