BOISE – A group of tourists had a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience when an elusive animal crossed their path at Yellowstone National Park this past weekend. The group was surprised by a wolverine, the largest member of the mustelid family that includes weasels, otters and ferrets.
Wolverines are extremely secretive, so they’re rarely spotted in the park. They’re also rarely spotted in Idaho despite having a widespread year-round range, according to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
The Fish and Game species profile on wolverines shows the animals are found just about everywhere in the Gem State except the southwest corner and a swath through south-central Idaho that extends near the southern-most part of the state’s border with Montana. Fish and Game spokesperson Roger Phillips said the agency doesn’t have a lot of data on wolverines, but sightings have been reported across most of the state.
Though they’re quite large at roughly 3 feet long and as much as 50 pounds, they’re experts at avoiding humans.
“Wolverines are pretty secretive animals. They tend to be more in a forested alpine environment,” Phillips told the Idaho Statesman last summer.
Phillips was explaining how unlikely it was that the creature a Boise woman saw on the Greenbelt was a wolverine.
Still, according to Fish and Game observation reports, at least one Ada County wolverine sighting has proved accurate. In 2012, a Fish and Game conservation officer reported that he’d reviewed photos that a trapper took at the Boise Airport and confirmed it was a wolverine.
“The wolverine was also captured on the security camera at the Chevron gas station next to the airport,” he noted.
Fish and Game records all reported wolverine sightings on its website. This year, only two people have reported possible wolverine sightings (neither claim has been reviewed yet, according to the agency’s website).
The most recent, on March 3, was from a Garden Valley resident who claimed they saw a small wolverine “pushing a raccoon” off their property.
The other sighting, from January, was only of tracks near Redfish Lake. Many of the wolverine observation reports are still considered “possible” sightings rather than verified reports, but many of the confirmed observations are deep in the Sawtooths or in mountainous areas near places like McCall and Grangeville.
Wolverines prefer large territories – from about 100 square miles to as large as 500 or 600 square miles – which keeps them from being densely populated.
“They’re what we call a low-density animal,” Phillips said. “There’s not a lot of them on the landscape.”
The animals are not considered endangered, but Idaho ranks the species in its category of most concern, which it says is reserved for “critically imperiled” species.
Worldwide, wolverines are considered potentially at risk in the long term. Phillips said Idaho considers wolverines a population of concern because of the small number of animals in Idaho and their need for specialized environments, including deep snow.
“They’re a fascinating animal and an important part of Idaho’s wildlife spectrum,” Phillips said.
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