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Wolverine spotted near Evanston

Posted: Friday, May 2nd, 2014

A wolverine walks the ground about 20 miles from Evanston near a bear bait barrel, which Mike Moore and Troy Moore set up with hopes of harvesting a black bear. Jeff Short, a Wyoming Game and Fish biologist, said he believes this to be the first-ever confirmed wolverine sighting in this area. (COURTESY PHOTOS/Mike Moore)

By Bryon Glathar

Herald Managing Editor

EVANSTON — The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has confirmed a wolverine sighting near Evanston. One official said it might be the first-ever confirmed sighting in the area.

“We haven’t had one in that part of the state before,” Jeff Short, Game and Fish biologist told the Herald. “Not in that part of the state, not that I know of. It’s not standard wolverine habitat.”

The wolverine was spotted about 20 miles from Evanston, just north of the Utah/Wyoming border, by an Evanston man’s trail camera. Short said it’s strange for a wolverine to be at that low of an elevation.

Perhaps even more strange, Short said, is the fact that the carnivorous creature has stayed in the same area for over two weeks. It was first spotted April 10, and was seen as recently as last Sunday, April 27.

“I’m a little surprised that it would stay there that long,” Short said. “I’d say that was unusual. Usually they’d work on a carcass of a dead animal and move on and find something else in fairly short order — so it’s fairly surprising to me.”

The wolverine was spotted by Mike Moore’s trail camera, which he and his brother-in-law Troy Moore installed near a bear bait barrel they set up a few weeks ago to attract black bear. After the sighting, Mike Moore said harvesting a bear isn’t necessarily the first thing on his mind.

“We spent a lot of time preparing for this year’s black bear hunting season,” he said. “We’ve got stuck twice and broke down once just to get to our bait site. However, seeing the wolverine pictures in our trail cam made all of the hard work worth it, and at this point if we get our bear, it would be icing on the cake. We feel very fortunate to get the pictures of the wolverine and have become fascinated with the animal — it’s really all we talk about at this point.”

Moore’s bait barrel has gone undisturbed over the past few weeks, even with the wolverine stalking the area. That’s no surprise to Short, who said the animal likely won’t go after the bear bait, but is more likely to scavenge its own meals. A few of the photos Moore was able to capture show the wolverine feeding on a carcass.

Some might be surprised that the wolverine wouldn’t go after food intended for bears. After all, they very much resemble small bears. But wolverines are actually part of the weasel family with, according to Wikipedia, “a reputation for ferocity and strength out of proportion to its size, with the documented ability to kill prey many times larger than itself.”

But Mike Moore said that won’t stop him from going back to the site.

“We will be going back up there this weekend and hope to have even more pictures,” he said. “And, although we respect the wolverine, we do not fear that we will run into it in person. We think there is a reason that sightings are so rare, and that the animal will avoid us long before we have an opportunity to come face to face. With that being said, when you’re out in the woods, it’s not all pretty flowers and chipmunks.”

In fact, sightings are so rare that Short said there is usually only one confirmed sighting statewide every couple of years.

“It’s kind of neat and interesting,” Short said, “because the place that the bear bait is is not a typical wolverine habitat.”

He said wolverines live toward the tops of high mountain ranges like the Teton or Wind River ranges.

“The habitat in the high Uintas would be suitable,” Short said, “but that’s in Utah so I’m not sure if they’ve had any sightings.”

The Denver Post reported in 2009 that one young wolverine traveled 500 miles from Grand Teton National Park into Colorado, making that the “first known incidence of a wolverine in Colorado since 1919.”

Short said if wolverines are anything, they’re travelers.

“They’ll walk clear across the desert on their way to another mountain range,” he said.

That, coupled with their elusive nature, makes them hard to count and track.

“It’s not like deer, where you can just go out and count them,” Short said.

Wolverines are protected by the state of Wyoming, but officials struggle to determine if they’re threatened or just how many there might be, lurking in the high forests.

“It’s an animal that’s been studied a lot in the past,” Short said. “They’re so secretive that it’s difficult to determine how many we have or if they are threatened.”

He said the Fish and Wildlife Service is actually trying to determine whether or not they are threatened.

“This information helps,” Short said. “Any information that lets them know where wolverines are already at is very helpful.”

Not only was Short impressed with Moore’s photos — he described them as “excellent pictures and a very credible sighting” — but he was also grateful Moore contacted Game and Fish.

“It’s really helpful for us when people let us know about stuff like that,” he said. “For a rare animal like that, it helps us define where they might be found, gives us a better idea of where they might be — that’s really helpful and we appreciate that.”

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