It was six years ago on February 24, 2004 the small community of Ubly made state and national news when coyote hunters treed a wolverine. Who could image something that strange? Biologists say that if wolverines were ever native to Michigan, they were extirpated about 200 years ago.
But it was true and DNRE wildlife biologist Arnie Karr, verified the animal was a wolverine and it somehow found its way to Michigan’s Thumb. At the time DNR Director Rebecca Humphries signed an emergency order protecting the animal from harassment or harm.
It was approximately 10 days later back in 2004 that avid hunting partners Jeff Ford, a Deckerville High School science teacher and Steve Noble found the tracks of Michigan newest wildlife resident. After following the tracks deep into the Minden City game area traveling through some of the thickest swampy areas, they embarked on a six year odyssey of documenting and gaining knowledge on an apparent lost wolverine. Much of the intriguing photos and interesting facts of the Thumb’s wolverine were shared with Woods-N-Water News readers over the years by Jeff’s writings and recordings. The uniqueness of the story peaked the curiosity of many and created a tremendous following. We were reminded, sometime even reprimanded if an update on the wolverine’s odyssey wasn’t published, so many wanted to know what was going on in the Thumb’s wolverine world. How ironic that last month’s wolverine update included thoughts of a possible reintroduction of wolverines to Michigan.
Unfortunately the wolverine’s odyssey came to an abrupt end the second week of March 2010. On Saturday, March 13, Jeff Ford received a call from his hunting buddy and fellow wolverine watcher, Steve Noble who had just heard that the wolverine – “their” wolverine was found dead!
Steve was able to make contact with DNRE Conservation Officer Seth Rhodea to verify and set up a meeting to see their wolverine they had tracked and looked after for six years. Steve Noble took samples of hair from the wolverine’s dead body, which Jeff Ford mailed to Audrey Magoun up in Alaska. The geneticist will compare this wolverine’s DNA to wolverines in the southern regions of Ontario and Manitoba.
It was C.O. Rhodea and C.O. Bob Hobkirk that responded to a call on the DNRE’s RAP hot line from avid hunter Todd Rann of Marysville, and his girlfriend Morgan Graham of New Baltimore. They were hiking and scouting for treestand locations when Morgan spotted what she thought was a dead beaver, partially submerged in the water near a beaver dam. Rann pulled it from the water and realized it was a wolverine. The COs immediately arrived at the scene and retrieved the animal. The officers reported no visible signs of trauma to the dead wolverine. A necropsy was scheduled at The Rose Lake Wildlife Disease Laboratory for Thursday March 18.
Arnie Karr, area DNR biologist, has granted Jeff Ford permission to attend and videotape the necropsy of the wolverine for educational purposes. The pathologist, Tom Cooley, who is conducting the necropsy also granted permission for Jeff to attend. Prior to heading to the Rose Lake lab, the wolverine was sent to an area taxidermist to be prepared to be mounted. The DNRE plans to have the specimen and displayed, probably at the visitor center at nearby Bay City State Recreation Area.
That Saturday was a disturbing day for Jeff, “it was like losing a friend! I felt sad as I held the dead wolverine; I would no longer be sharing the woods with the most fascinating and rarest mammal to walk North America.”
Jeff and Steve poured more than just their hearts and souls into their wolverine research project. Countless hours over the past six years into research and talking to experts, plus the number of strenuous physical hours of tracking, setting trail cameras, retrieving cameras, changing batteries, it’s mind boggling. Jeff mentioned, “Surely I have well over 1,000 hours of research into my wolverine project.”
In addition to the hours they made a considerable monetary investment. Jeff noted, “The cost of the technological part of the research project, including three video systems, six game cameras, processing of 1,200 pictures, CDs, and $3,000 in video productions; the total is in excess of $10,000!” Exhibiting the positive characters of a true Michigan sportsperson, Jeff added, “But looking back on it, it was the best $10,000 I ever spent and I’d repeat it in a second if another wolverine took a trip across the ice next winter!”
Jeff Ford is deserving of all our admiration for his relentless pursuit in this wolverine odyssey, such a commitment! A reader from Carson City typifies the comments we’ve been receiving, “I loved Jeff Ford’s articles on his wolverine sightings over the years. I am so sad to hear that the wolverine has been found dead. Thanks to Jeff for bringing us this great article, I did not know there were any wolverines left in this state.”
There’s still more to come from Jeff on future findings and issues on the wolverine. Thanks, Jeff!