|Hey there, Nasty Cat|
Doug Chadwick, local author of The Wolverine Way, calls Gulo gulo–the biggest land-dwelling member of the weasel family–an “unmitigated badass”. True that. As evidence of said badassery, I give you some facts: (1) They have one of the strongest bite-forces in the world. They don’t just eat bone marrow, they eat whole bones, son. (2) They are voracious eaters. There isn’t much of anything, alive or dead, that they won’t eat. (3) Among their charming nicknames? Skunk bear. Nasty Cat. Quickhatch. Carcajou. Huge Jackman. (4) They roam insanely large tracts of land. A male’s home range can be over 240 square miles. (5) Those home ranges are comprised of primarily high, steep terrain, which wolverines prance and skip around, no problem. M3, a famous Glacier gulo, ran up the steepest face of Mount Cleveland (the highest peak in the park at 10,479 feet) in about 90 minutes. In the middle of winter. Because he could. (6) Females den around the edges of treeline, tunneling burrows in the snow of up to 75 feet long to give birth to their adorable kits.
Because they inhabit high elevation snowy terrain, and because they need so much space to roam, there just isn’t that much room for wolverines these days. Glacier is actually the best place in the lower 48 to spot the sassy, solitary beast, although it can only support about 40-45 individuals. Wolverines have been proposed for Endangered Species status several times in recent years. Apparently it has been tossed out of court a couple of times due to “lack of information.” Huh. It is up for status again, this time linked to climate change. Here’s hoping.
|Badasses brush their hair with gun brushes, yo.|
Last month I did a little volunteer work for the Park’s wolverine DNA project. For the past two winters a dedicated group of volunteers has braved gnarly mountain weather and extra butter portions (for increased caloric intake to deal with said cold weather) to set up hair snagging stations throughout Glacier. We know wolverines are here–and previous projects involved capturing and collaring the animals–but any process that involves building little remote log cabins for traps that an industrious and pissed off animal can actually chew their way out of in a matter of hours is bound to be challenging. Non-invasive sampling through remote camera placement, track surveys, and hair collection (just like the bear and fisher projects) is a much easier way (for animals and people) to keep tabs on a population.
|I just called. To say. I love you.|
But of course every animal has its own habits, so biologists need to tailor their traps accordingly. Sultry bears enjoy scratching their booties on tree trunks. All we have to do is locate the trees where they’ve already rubbed, and throw up some barb wire to snag a little fur. Fishers want forest cover. They don’t typically run around in the open, so it makes sense to put those enticing tubular stations, equipped with a chicken wing, down on the forest floor. Wolverines go everywhere. And they can climb where local coyotes and wolves can’t. So we entice them with a meat flag nailed to a tall pole, covered in wire gun brushes. Because frozen meat doesn’t smell much, we augment the whole operation with a little scent lure called “Gusto”. Believe me when I tell you I have smelled a lot of bad things through my wildlife work, and this stuff is particularly naaasty. It is the kind of intense odor that feels almost palpable in your mouth–a solid lump of rotten skunk meat lolling around. If that skunk had been eating garlic and shit sandwiches. And the smell lingers, too. So that is awesome.
Still, any chance to get into the woods for a good cause, right? Today I heard that one of the remote cameras crews put out in the Belly River area picked up a wolverine going up a bate pole. The really cool thing is that when folks zoomed in on the photographs, they could see a set of earrings. It was old M3, the badass who ran up Cleveland and was tagged nearly ten years ago, still alive and kickin’ it in the park! I hope I’ll be lucky enough to run into him by the water cooler sometime. Maybe I need to enlist a little Gusto….