Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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To study wolverines, scientists track humans

Wolverines are notoriously hard to track. Elusive and strong enough to claw their way out of even the strongest traps, they’ve forced scientists to adjust.

The lack of data has hindered a possible endangered species listing from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Scientists do know the animals’ habitat is shrinking.

The Wolverine-Winter Recreation Research Project came up with a new approach: In addition to tracking wolverines with GPS collars, scientists put trackers on 5,539 human hikers and outdoor enthusiasts across the West.

It looked for overlap between humans and the animals, looking for an activity threshold at which wolverine activity drops.

“What’s valuable about this is it suggests that based on good science, there can be an effective balance between recreationists that are using public lands and wolverines,” said John Squires, a study co-author at the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, Mont.

This helps Forest Service agencies release the proper number of backcountry permits. Wolverines do not hibernate, and scientists worry about conflict with snowmobiles.

The study shows most humans stay away from terrain wolverines enjoy.

“This was the biggest radio-collar project with wolverines ever,” said University of Montana wildlife biologist Mark Hebblewhite, a study co-author. “The part I didn’t think would work was collaring humans. A friend tried this in Canada, and everyone was, ‘Get out of my face.’ But we wound up with better data on the humans than on the animals.”

— Greenwire

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