In Our Backyard: Wolverine
Seeing a wolverine (Gulo gulo) in the wild is extremely rare as they are a remarkably solitary species. The wolverine appears to look like a small bear, but it is in fact the largest terrestrial member of the weasel family. Wolverines are known for attacking with their fierce teeth and sharp, long claws. Their thick, frost-resistant coats, small eyes, and semi-retractable claws make these creatures dangerous to fellow animals and captivating to humans.
Wolverines are distributed all around British Columbia’s deep forests and rely on several variables to establish a home range. Because the wolverine depends on different food sources throughout the year, food distribution and abundance, available carrion, and suitable habitat structures are all important when wolverines determine a range. Wolverines can be an indicator of a healthy environment because of the need for these many different variables and a habitat undisturbed by humans.
Home ranges of the wolverine are actively studied, and it is suspected that wolverines tend to use the Frog Bear Conservation Corridor, along with many other species, when travelling their home ranges. The organization Wolverine Watch conducted a study measuring the wolverine’s gene flow and metapopulation across western Canada and United States that shows how wolverines move through the Frog Bear Conservation Corridor. Read more about this research.
The female wolverine raises her kits in her den during winter months. Such dens are located in tundra and alpine regions, and are a complexity made of rocks or boulders that create natural, insulated cavities under the snow.
Because of the wolverine’s extensive distribution and solidarity, they are incredibly hard to research; this is why so little is known about their habitats. What is known, though, is the fact that wolverine populations are decreasing, making them a blue-listed species in British Columbia. Wolverines have an extremely low resiliency to changes in their environment. Threats to the wolverine include:
- Trapping and poisoning: Trapping and poisoning of the wolverine is the top threat to the species. Wolverine fur is a high-value product, and although historical overharvesting caused a major decrease in populations, new forest developments have allowed trappers easier access into deeper forests where wolverines reside, making trapping an active threat even today.
- Changes in prey: Over the years, humans have manipulated the land and the species that live on it including wolverine prey populations. This means that the wolverine must either adapt to rely on different types of prey or relocate to an area away from their home range.
- Habitat loss: Although the habitat of the wolverine is generally unknown, habitat loss is a large contributor to the species’ population decrease. Large-scale logging and developments such as new roads are both very harmful to the wolverine’s habitat and take a toll on their population distribution.
- Climate change: The only known small-scale habitat for wolverines are the dens in which females raise their kits. These dens require snow, and with the changing climate, snow is becoming less frequent putting their reproduction habitats at risk.
The wolverine is protected under the BC Wildlife Act however open trapping seasons continue to occur in regions including the Thompson-Nicola Watershed with an average of 168 wolverines being harvested annually over the past decade, although this number may be larger due to unreported captures.
Currently, research projects are taking place across British Columbia to guide the province towards better conservation actions to help preserve wolverine populations. Through education, active research and conservation, it is possible to protect these creatures from their top threats.