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.
By Jacob Seguin
Knowing basic information about a species is the first step to conserving them. How do you make management decisions about land use, resource harvesting or planning for infrastructure like roads if you don’t know where species of concern are, how they move, or how many of them there are in a given area? Technology such as acoustic transmitters in sturgeon or GPS collars on wolverines can be invaluable tools to help answer these questions.
But how do you attach a collar to a wolverine? These are highly elusive creatures that also happen to be very powerful. We need a way to capture these burly members of the weasel family in a way that is safe and low-stress for the animals and us.
When we live-capture wolverines, we are trying to fool the trickster, contain the wanderer, and learn the secrets of the elusive. This makes the live-trap itself a critical tool for wolverine research. The trap has to be safe for the wolverine, strong and durable enough to contain it, and clever enough to catch them. If any of these three features aren’t built into the trap, you won’t be catching a wolverine. I’ll explain how we build a trap to show what makes it safe, what makes it strong, and what makes it clever.
To start with, you can’t just hop into the woods and start building live traps for a threatened species. Wolverines are protected by the Species at Risk Act (2007), and the first step to studying them is to make sure we are working entirely within the law, while also respecting the wishes of the communities we are working in. We always work together with local governments (often Indigenous) and trappers to be sure everyone knows what we are doing and why. Local fur trappers are usually interested in conservation research and often help us pick a spot based on their knowledge of the area.
Once we get the spot settled, we go in with tools and get to work. It will take three people about 10 hours to build a trap, for a total of 30 person-hours for the initial construction. We start by felling a tree, it must be as big around as a dinner plate. We measure and cut the tree into lengths for walls. While one person is sawing, another person can level an area and begin to make the floor. To keep it from rotting, the whole trap is built on smaller logs that keep it up off the ground. These foundation logs need to be level so that later the lid hangs evenly. Large deck boards form a flat floor and are the only piece of store-bought wood we use.