In search of wolverines with Alice Weber

This photo essay by Alice Weber, a Parks Canada outreach education officer, chronicles a recent trip with a wildlife biology team that was checking a wolverine bait station.

Parks Canada is collecting wolverine hair samples in Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks to determine the presence and behaviour of wolverine in relation to the Trans Canada Highway and railway lines. This will help determine the potential need for and placement of crossing structures.

The wolverine hair samples are collected on barbed wire at baited stations. This is a genetic sampling technique used to collect data on wolverine presence, distribution and genetic patterns. Each sampling site has a camera that helps confirm animal visits to the site and acts as an additional method of detection.

Alice Weber, Outreach Education Officer, joined members of the research team as they skied to one of the bait stations to download photos, attach fresh bait and collect hair samples.

This is her story in pictures:

I was excited to join Parks Canada biologist Lisa Larson and contractor Corey Bird on a trip to check a wolverine bait station in Glacier National Park. Alice Weber/Parks Canada photo
The early morning air was crisp and bright at the trailhead, chilling fingers and fogging breath as Lisa forced field research kits into the top of her pack. Alice Weber/Parks Canada photo
The three of us head up the snowy trail, moving steadily as our bodies warm up. We are going to gather photos and hair samples from a wolverine study site, and to re-bait the hair-snag tree. Alice Weber/Parks Canada photo
The 4 km journey to the site was filled with wonders. Lisa spies an old trap shelf carved into a tree trunk. A historic leftover from the 1920s, a time when Parks Canada used to control predators like pine martins by trapping them. Alice Weber/Parks Canada photo
A giant snow mushroom looms over a tree stump, under which are dozens of tiny mouse tracks left behind after some warm-weather scurrying. Alice Weber/Parks Canada photo
Corey and I notice strange prints travelling over “snow pillows” from little pools in the creek. Alice Weber/Parks Canada photo
I look a little closer and realize that they are actually wing prints likely left by a small dipper bird as it fluttered from pool to pool. Alice Weber/Parks Canada photo
Suddenly, I hear Lisa saying she has spotted a bull trout in the creek, basking in a sunny pool. Fish sightings are uncommon in winter, especially the elusive bull trout – a species of special concern under the Species at Risk Act. Alice Weber/Parks Canada photo
We carry on towards our research site, noticing pine martin tracks, squirrel tracks and tiny vole tracks burrowing through the powder. I took a photo of what pine marten and mouse tracks look like. Alice Weber/Parks Canada photo
Along the way, Lisa notes our location on a GPS. Alice Weber/Parks Canada photo
I try an experiment with my computer – can I Skype from here? This would be a great tool for schools. This bait station is out of cell range but I’ll test it out at other research sites. Lisa Larsen/Parks Canada photo
When we arrive at the site, both the camera and the bait station are sitting almost at snow level—with almost a metre of snow having fallen in the past few weeks, we need to move them higher up the tree. Lisa and Corey jump to work. Alice Weber/Parks Canada photo
We also notice plenty of martin tracks at the base of the tree, and observe that most of the bait has been removed by this smaller member of the weasel family. It seems like the largest in the weasel family, the wolverine, has not travelled through this area over the past few weeks. Alice Weber/Parks Canada photo
We unlock the camera from the tree and exchange the memory card for a fresh one. Alice Weber/Parks Canada photo
The images on the card confirm that only martins have been in the area so far. Next, the camera is moved a metre up the tree, in anticipation of more snowfall. Lisa tests the camera to make sure it is capturing the area at the base of the tree. Parks Canada photo
Lisa inspects the barbed wire for signs of wolverine hair that could be sent off for DNA analysis—no luck this time. Alice Weber/Parks Canada photo
We carefully remove the old bait and barbed wire from the tree.. New bait is fastened to the tree and the barbed wire is replaced. Corey Bird/Parks Canada photo
Finally, the lure must be set. Lisa opens the bottle of lure and rubs some on a rag. The lure is essentially a bottle of gland juice—a stinky skunk scent meant to entice animals over a great distance. Helping to put fresh ‘lure’ on the rag is a novel experience that neither words nor photos can do justice. Alice Weber/Parks Canada photo
I find the lure rag hanging from a nearby tree and lower it with a string—careful not to come in contact as I don’t want the strong, foul scent to get on my clothes. Lisa Larsen/Parks Canada photo
When that task is done, Lisa sets the camera on, and we swiftly ski away. We make our way down the trail in the dimming light. Alice Weber/Parks Canada photo
As we reach the parking lot, ‘alpenglow’ lights up the nearby mountains with a nearly-full moon glowing just above. While we did not see signs of wolverine, we worked to discover more about this elusive creature and provide information needed to ensure its future. Alice Weber/Parks Canada photo
Anyone can help the wolverine. All you have to do is share your observations. While we use “field forms,” you don’t have to. If you see a wolverine or its tracks, note the date and time and your location; if you have a GPS unit, record the UTM co-ordinates and then let Parks Canada know. You can call 250.837.7500 or e-mail Alice Weber/Parks Canada photo