Michigan’s wolverine update

The old furry gal, the Michigan Thumb Wolverine, is alive, healthy, and looking very well. My most recent picture was April 18th, 2008, and we’ve also been able to find and document some nice tracks last winter in the snow and this spring in the mud. She has continued to thrive and make a living in a relatively restricted area compared to a typical wolverine territory which can extend hundreds of miles over mountainous terrain. We’ve been able to keep fairly consistent tabs on her, although at times she seems to disappear for a period of a week or more.

We’ve found over the last three years the wolverine continues to seek out a few key areas where we have consistently cut her tracks and taken pictures or video. There seems to be key characteristics that attract her to these areas, and keeps her coming back.

• A lack of human presence.

• A large source of water.

• An abundant amount of thick ground cover.

• High densities of whitetail deer, rabbits, waterfowl.

People at presentations have asked why an animal that is accustomed to the wildest of places and one that has been documented with a GPS radio collar traveling 258 miles in 19 days, all the while climbing up and down mountain peaks over 10,000 feet, has remained in our Thumb. I feel the answer is fairly simple. She has found an area that sustains her needs regarding food and the isolation needed for her solitary existence, and is somewhat restricted because striking out too far has always resulted in negative consequences with human contact.

On February 24th, 2004 she was chased with trucks, dogs, humans, and snowmobiles. Two weeks later after countless hours of searching we cut her track in an isolated area. Since that time she has been very careful with her movement patterns, never striking out during daylight hours, and limited excursions at night investigating outside the areas she calls home. I’m convinced that a wolverine has a sharp memory, and they are very intelligent. Experts in wolverine behavior and trappers concur.

There is much debate regarding how the wolverine arrived in the Thumb of Michigan. Regardless of the circumstances of her arrival, the fact remains that she has been living here for a very long time, at least four years, and I believe it has been over five, as I discussed in the May, 2007 issue of Woods-N-Water News.

Without the invention of new technologies; game cameras, and infrared video units, our confirmation of a wolverine living here in the Thumb of Michigan would not have happened, and we certainly wouldn’t have been able to confirm her existence here for so long.

Back in June of 2004, even after Steve Noble and I made molds of the wolverine’s prints a mile back in the woods, sporting a print that was 5 X 4 inches in dimensions, the local rumor was that we had laid plaster of Paris in the tracks of a Badger, and were just chasing a ghost. Even after taking the molds to Arnie Karr, the DNR field Biologist at the Cass City office and having his staff confirm that this was indeed a wolverine track, we still found folks not swallowing the notion that we were on the trail of a wolverine. It was not until my old clumsy 35 mm Moultrie game camera took the first picture in March, 2005 that folks finally believed we were onto a wolverine.

Recently in February, 2008 Katie Moriarty, a graduate student from Oregon State University was conducting field study work in California on martens, a smaller member of the weasel family. She had over 20 Cuddeback game cameras over bait in wilderness sites throughout a mountain range. After pulling her compact flash cards and checking the pictures she was amazed to find a picture of a wolverine at her bait site, and the California DNR was shocked at her finding, believing the wolverine had been gone from the state of California since the 1920s.

The question that scientists are now asking is whether it was gone or just not confirmed during that time. What about wolverines in Michigan? Is the one female the only Gulo in our entire state, including our vast and wild Upper Peninsula?

Without the use of her game cameras, Moriarty and the California DNR would have not known a genuine wolverine was roaming their state.

The discovery of the rarest and most solitary mammal in North America in California started me thinking of the possibility of a wolverine population in Michigan. Is it possible that the Michigan wolverine was born in the wild in Michigan? Was the wolverine born in a nearby state, or Ontario, and traveled here through dispersion?

Following our discovery of the Thumb wolverine I had countless calls and emails insisting they had seen a wolverine in Michigan. Many of the people said they were hesitant to disclose their discovery at the time, for fear of being mocked and ridiculed. After some questioning regarding specifics of the animal regarding the size, colorations, and movement mechanics, I was often able to convince them that they had seen a badger, raccoon, or dog. But other encounters seemed to fit the profile of a wolverine. Maybe there’s more out there!

Although I still feel the most probable avenue of the wolverine arriving here in the Thumb is via an ice bridge from Ontario, it’s also possible there indeed is a population of wolverines in Michigan.

Let’s find out if there is indeed a wolverine population here. To do so I need your help. If you see an abnormally large track that has five toes document the discovery by making casts and taking pictures. A bear’s toes are all out in front of the pad, whereas a wolverine’s toes have three out front and one on each side. A mixture of plaster of Paris and water was what Steve and I poured in the tracks to confirm her existence. Whether in the snow or mud, the mixture quickly solidifies and can provide solid confirmation of the animal that walked through a particular location.

Although tracks can be a good method to confirming the existence of a rare mammal, nothing can compare to a picture taken from a game camera in a wilderness setting. I am requesting the help of folks all around Michigan. Let’s find another wolverine!

If you want quality game camera photos and all the finest attributes, I recommend a Trailwatcher game camera (www.trailwatcher.com). It’s extremely easy to work, yet amazingly effective at taking superb pictures. The unit sells for $500, and their system has taken all of my wolverine pictures the last year.

If you can’t afford the elite camera and still want a quality system I recommend the Moultrie 6.0 infrared Flash. This is also a nice unit at $299. (The 4.0 sells for $199) I haven’t received a dime from either of these companies for endorsements, so be assured I’m telling you what I feel is the best out there after trying many of the popular game cameras in the United States.

If you suspect a wolverine is residing in your neck of the woods take some venison or bones off a deer carcass to the woods and set it up with the camera looking over it. The best method is to ratchet strap a carcass or venison to the base of a tree, or dig a hole, placing the venison in the ground and covering it. Wolverines have a superb sense of smell and love venison, a regular meal on their menu, along with rabbits. Burkholder in his scientific research study documented a single wolverine (wolverines do not hunt in packs) attacking and taking down a mature Caribou in the Tundra, an animal much larger than a deer, so a whitetail deer is easy prey for a wolverine.

If we are able to establish that a wolverine population does exist in Michigan, and the wolverine is listed as endangered, the DNR would be forced to not only protect but also propagate the species under the Michigan endangered species act. Cougars and Wolves are already listed as endangered under the act, so why not an animal that’s been confirmed living here for at least four years?

Let’s get out there and find another wolverine. When you do, contact me through my website at www.wolverineguy.com.