Muddy Boots is our internal blog where our staff members share experiences getting their boots muddy with on-the-ground conservation research! You can find our contributions to external blogs and Op Eds here.
Wolverine at live trap in Rainbow Lake, Alberta. Credit: Matt Scrafford/WCS Canada
By Matt Scrafford
I was living in Rainbow Lake, Alberta and studying wolverine ecology for my PhD at the University of Alberta when I got a call from a local trapper. He told me that he had something to show me and that I needed to get out to his cabin quickly. I finished breakfast, gathered my gear and drove the snowmobile out to his trapper cabin, which was situated in a large open area where two old logging roads crossed. He was outside when I arrived, readying his gear for checking his traps that day. He smiled and motioned for me to look inside the shed next to his cabin. I walked up to the shed and peered in but I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. He said I should look a bit closer. I walked in further and heard a rustle behind an old barbecue. I then heard the deep guttural grumble of a wolverine.
The local critters like the trapper’s cabin because there is always something stinky around – whether it be beaver carcasses, moose bones or lure. This wolverine followed his nose into the shed. We went into his cabin to discuss the situation over a cup of coffee – this is how we did some of our best thinking in the field. We could tag the wolverine for our research project, but we had no idea how long it had been in the shed and didn’t want to extend its confinement. So we instead finished our coffee and made a path for the wolverine to get out of the shed. We left the cabin to check his traps and by the time we got back the wolverine was gone.
It’s not every day that you find a wolverine hanging around your shed. Wolverines are a naturally rare species that exists at densities of 4-8 individuals/1000 km2. Wolverines populations appear to be healthy in the core of their range in places like Rainbow Lake, Alberta. But as you move away from that core to the southern boreal forests and mountains, wolverines are struggling to persist in the face of ever expanding human activity. Wolverines have been put forward for listing in the contiguous U.S. under the Endangered Species Act. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, meanwhile, considers wolverines to be a Species of Special Concern because their naturally low densities are threatened by climate change, industrial development, and trapping. Wolverines in Ontario are listed as Threatened under the Ontario Species at Risk Act because of their low numbers in the province.