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Wolverines in the Backyard

by Cathy Gaylord

Wolverines, the legendary eating machine of the north, have the Latin name Gulo gulo, which means the glutton or voracious eater.  Along with a healthy appetite the wolverine’s reputation is one of extreme ferocity and secretiveness. Recent research, however, has shown the wolverine to be more social, playful, and family oriented than previously known. And while these animals are emblematic of wilderness lands to the north in Canada, Alaska, and Russia, they may also occupy Wenatchee’s backyard.

The largest member of the weasel family, wolverines are far-ranging animals, can withstand hard winters with lots of snow, and show no interest in living among humans.  They often scavenge but also hunt medium to small prey.  They have been known to drive grizzlies off food even though they only weigh an average of 30 pounds.

These animals may be tough as nails, but they are also endangered by trapping, global warming, and habitat fragmentation. A female wolverine was captured and outfitted with a radio collar in the Harts Pass area this winter. She was the seventh to be collared in Washington in recent years and she, along with these other radio collared wolverines in the North Cascades, are helping us better understand wolverine movements and behavior.

Conservation Northwest, a Washington-based conservation organization, is working with other nonprofits and governmental agencies to determine where wolverines still wander. And that’s where my husband, Drew, and I come in. This winter and spring, we volunteered to help Conservation Northwest by placing a motion-sensitive camera near Stevens Pass in hopes of capturing photos of this elusive animal.

Photo: The Hidden Camera (snowed in).

To collect these pictures, every two weeks we would ski for 45 minutes north of Highway 2 with several pounds of meat strapped to our backs. The meat was later nailed to a tree and liquid taken from beaver glands would be poured over it to make sure any scavengers in the area were given the “come hither” message. After baiting the site, we changed batteries, reloaded data cards in the camera and left hoping our next visit would include pictures of the glutton.


While we did not manage to get pictures of wolverines this year, we did get over 12,000 pictures of pine martens, coyotes, a few grey jays, and a couple of flying squirrels. 



This does not mean wolverines do not visit our area.  Their territories are very large (between 400 and 1000 square miles, depending on which source you believe), so one may not have happened upon our meat and our camera this year.

We will continue trying next year. If you are out skiing and find meat nailed to a tree, look for the camera and give us a big smile.


Details, Details

For more information on wolverines Douglas Chadwick has an entertaining and informative book with the newest information about wolverine behavior called, The Wolverine Way. Netflix also offers an excellent program filmed by Nature called, Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom.