Adventurer asks ‘Are there wolverines in Utah?’
March 4, 2016
Two years ago, a Utah Department of Wildlife Resources trail camera set up to track black bears snapped a photo of a wolverine in the Uintah Mountains.
That was the first confirmed sighting of a wolverine since 1979, when a dead wolverine was found in Utah, according to Mike Kautz, who is slated to give his presentation "Are There Wolverines in Utah?" at the Swaner EcoCenter on March 10.
"Since the carcass was found, there have been anecdotal reporting of people who say they saw one, but no photographic evidence or documented sightings until then," Kautz said during a Park Record telephone interview while towing a snowmobile near the east side of Yellowstone National Park.
Kautz is part of a nonprofit called Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC), which connects outdoor enthusiasts and conservation scientists who need data from remote and hard-to-access areas.
Inspired by the wolverine photo, the National Forest Service asked ASC to collaborate in a project last summer to study whether or not there were wolverines with home range on the north slope of the Uintah Mountains, and Kautz will talk about his findings on Thursday.
"The project was part of a broader question of what is needed in terms of connectivity in the greater Rocky Mountains for a species like the wolverine," Kautz explained. "They need a lot of space and tend to like more remote wilderness areas.
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"They were more widespread after the last Ice Ages and they are a great species to indicate climate change," he said. "As the climate gets warmer, they retreat into the higher, remote alpine areas."
Kautz also plans to give attendees some wolverine history.
"When the Europeans got to North America, wolverines populated as far east as the Great Lakes and were found throughout the Rocky Mountain west," he said. "Because of human use of the land, fur trapping and other human-based circumstances, the wolverines’ habitat has really contracted, especially in the last decade."
The presentation will include information about an upcoming multi-state collaboration that is designed to figure out where wolverines have strongholds in the Intermountain Region.
This is important because there isn’t a lot of information regarding the species, Kautz said.
"People know the word wolverine from team-sport mascots or that they existed during the mountain man days," he said. "I did a Google search to get some information and the thing that popped up was Marvel Comic’s ‘Wolverine’ movie starring Hugh Jackman."
Kautz wants to educate his audiences about what he calls this "charismatic, wild animal."
"One of the things I love is how tough and independent they are," he said. "They are hearty animals that will fight off grizzly bears. And the species has survived a huge contraction of the habitat they love best in the past Ice Age — a lot of snow, long winters and cold climate."
The biggest reason there is lack of wolverine information is because the North American model of conservation is based around game species — deer, elk and other animals that are hunted by humans.
"A species like a wolverine who lives on the margin and very independent of humans doesn’t have many resources directed at to help us understand it and understand what is necessary for its conservation," Kautz said.
Even Kautz wasn’t familiar with the animal before the ASC and National Forest Service collaboration.
"I’d always had a curiosity about them as a wild animal and have seen them before in the outdoors, which was one of the most exciting wildlife sightings of my life, but that was pretty much what I knew," he said. "So, [the project] was a great chance for me to take a professional interest in the animal as well."
The Swaner EcoCenter, 1258 Center Dr. at Kimball Junction, will present "Are There Wolverines in Utah?" by Mike Kautz of Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC), on Thursday, March 10, from 6:30 p.m. until 8 p.m. Admission is $5 for the general public and free for EcoCenter members. For more information, visit http://www.swanerecocenter.org.