To Learn About Wolverines, Researchers Track Humans

11 Apr 2018

Researchers at the University of Montana have been struggling to collect information about wolverines.  In the past, biologists have had trouble finding wolverines in the wild.

Data regarding wolverines is so difficult to find that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared them an endangered species.

Once located, getting GPS tracking collars to remain attached to wolverines is another challenge. While not much is known about this elusive species, researchers are certain that their habitat is shrinking because of human recreational activities in the area. Scientists estimate that there may be less than 300 wolverines in the lower 48 states.

Researchers decided to take an unconventional approach in one of the biggest radio-collar projects involving wolverines. They asked humans to voluntarily wear the small wildlife GPS tracking collars to record their locations.

Last December, the Wolverine-Winter Recreation Research Project released their findings. Over 5,539 people and 24 wolverines participated in the project. The study was conducted in the mountain areas of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Human trackers provided data every second, while the wolverine collars gave their locations every five to 20 minutes.

The study discovered that human recreational activity is minimal in wolverine’s primary habitats. The group also found that wolverines won’t abandon an area that humans frequent unless human activity becomes too much for them.

The data revealed by the research study will be beneficial for Forest Service analysts, wildlife conservationists and land managers. They can make more well-informed decisions about issuing permits for snowmobile races, skiing areas and other recreational expansions.

Wolverines are not known to hibernate, and the females are much less accepting of human interaction. Females usually den from February to late spring, so late-season snowmobilers may be more likely to conflict with mother wolverines.

It’s crucial that the female wolverine’s reproductive cycle isn’t disturbed because the species is slow-to-breed. Male wolverines, on the other hand, will commonly travel in back-country road areas. Biologists believe these wolverines may be searching for hunter’s gut piles or an easier way to travel through the snow.

 

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