As I’ve written before about wolves, dispersal’s a dangerous game for critters seeking out new habitat and mates.
Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but it often reveals surprises and insights into the natural world.
In the latest example from Washington, a wolverine visited a very, very non-wolverinelike part of King County late last month.
The huge mustelid was captured on video by a trail cam May 28 several miles north of the city of Snoqualmie, somewhere along the fringe of Campbell Global’s Snoqualmie Forest, heavily logged lowland timberlands.
The camera belongs to a local resident, one of several neighbors who like to see what roams the nearby woods, and who forwarded the video to WDFW wildlife research scientist Brian Kertson who’d studied cougars in the area for several years earlier this decade.
“Everyone that has seen the video has been extremely excited — and extremely dumbfounded,” said Kertson.
That’s because wolverines are best known for haunting the rugged, snowy heights of Washington’s North and Central Cascades, but for some reason — perhaps on a clear day it saw the Olympics and thought there might be some of its species over there? — this particular one decided to head downhill.
“This wolverine was likely a dispersing individual because it was detected in a low-elevation forested habitat near developed areas, which is not considered highly suitable wolverine habitat,” WDFW noted in its latest weekly Wildlife Program report.
Who knows exactly how far west it went, but at some point it must have turned around and headed east, back to the mountains.
Unfortunately, it was probably the same wolverine that was found dead a week and a half later along I-90 more than 20 road miles to the southeast of Snoqualmie.
The carcass of the 37-pound male spotted by a trucker near Bandera on June 7 had distinctive chest blazes that suggest it was one and the same, according to WDFW.
Though a sad ending for the editor’s mascot species and, more seriously, a reminder of the need for wildlife passage across the busy east-west interstate, it still was a remarkable journey for several more reasons.
It’s only the second wolverine known to have been roadkilled in Washington in the past 20 years.
The other, a juvenile female, was discovered along Highway 20 near Concrete in 1997.
That one’s now a specimen at the Burke Museum, on the University of Washington campus.
Biologists hope to preserve the recently roadkilled male for outreach and education.
And it’s also a sign of a growing population.
Wolverines are turning up more and more in Washington’s Cascades, mostly to the north of I-90 but earlier this year a mating pair and two kits were photographed in the William O. Douglas Wilderness east of Mt. Rainier, the first evidence of reproduction in those parts in half a century.
The dispersing male was found dead 10 road miles and 7 air miles from I-90’s Gold Creek wildlife underpass at the head of Lake Keechlus, and another 8 miles from the wildlife overpass being built near its lower end.
Unusually, its path also echoes that of a wolf that was caught on a backyard-mounted trail cam near Snoqualmie in late April 2015 and was struck on I-90 between mileposts 41 and 42, about 10 miles west of Bandera, later that same month.
While an unfortunate ending for the wolverine, the video of it in the lowland woods of eastern King County is “another great example of how the proliferation of trail cams among the interested public is providing valuable information to wildlife professionals,” says WDFW’s Kertson.