Sunday, August 21, 2011

Wolverine Sighting in Pioneer Mountains

Story and photo by Jeff Barney, biological field technician, Heart Rock Ranch

Last weekend I was backpacking and fishing in the Pioneers. From Copper Basin I hiked up Broad Canyon to Goat and Baptie Lakes in hopes of catching cutthroat, golden trout and grayling.

Saturday night just before dusk I noticed a large mammal across Goat Lake where I was camped. At first I thought it was an otter when it popped out of the water, but as it loped along the shore I grabbed my monocular and there was no mistaking it as a wolverine—my first sighting ever! I watched it for 15 minutes as it did a semi-circle around the 150 acre lake. It came closer, to 120 yards looked at me and kept going.

It ran effortlessly up a rocky moraine and disappeared. I ran uphill to get a closer look and couldn't find it. Walking back to camp I spotted it hunting along the north shoreline. It saw me and headed up the steepest slope and over the top toward Betty Lake. Man that critter could climb and without a sound on the loose rock.

Sunday morning he was back again about 9:00 across the lake! I watched him for 10 minutes as it summer-saulted twice down the snowy bank and then rolling on his back in the snow; reminded me of a dog playing. Very cool to watch! Afterward he again glided uphill with ease toward Standhope Peak and disappeared.

I got a few lousy photos as my camera batteries were dying. I had been taking snaps of the cutthroats I caught and the scenery that day so you'll have to forgive the distant shots of the critter. You might have to zoom in to see him.

Anyway, my biologist training kicked in, and I scurried over to where I saw him playing in the snow. Surely he left a few hairs in his tumbles down the snow fields. I was able to get one battery to hold a charge long enough to photograph a few tracks in the snow. With my Ziploc bag, I surveyed the snow for any hair, blood, scat I could find. I must have looked for 20 minutes in that one snow patch-- not a stinking follicle.

Understand that Idaho biologists use winter hair traps to snag a sample strands from a baited area. From the hairs they can work up the DNA fingerprint of that individual and identify it if they have previous hair samples from him. They keep records of each critter's home range and when/where he's been. Across all of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana they estimate 28-52 wolverines so to see one is really rare!

I wanted to relate this story given the Conservancy's work across the Pioneer Range. This area is near-and-dear to me. I think the opportunities to preserve and protect these vast expanses of wildlands are critical for rare species like wolverine.

Thanks for letting share my little adventure.

P/S: Have you voted for your favorite image to grace the Silver Creek Preserve 35th Anniversary poster yet? Voting ends this week!

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