Elusive creature found in Utah excites wildlife experts

This wolverine was hit and killed by a vehicle in Rich County recently. In 2014, photos of a wolverine in the Uinta Mountains were captured by biologists using a trail camera, Laketown, Utah, June 29, 2016 | Photo by Mike Christensen, courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

LAKETOWN, Utah – A wolverine, an elusive and secretive creature not seen in person in Utah for 40 years, made an appearance in the northeastern part of the state last week – as roadkill.

Even though it was hit and killed by a vehicle, the fact a wolverine was in Utah is exciting to staff with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

“This wolverine was not transplanted to Utah,” DWR Director Greg Sheehan said. “It made its way here on its own. It’s amazing to see the diversity of wildlife we have in Utah expand even more. Particularly, such a charismatic and mythical species as the wolverine.”

The carcass of a female wolverine was found by a Utah Department of Transportation employee in the area of Laketown, near Bear Lake. The employee reported the find to Utah DWS staff Wednesday. DWS announced the find Friday.

Wolverines are historically found in high-mountain areas and are found today in the North Cascades in Washington and the Northern Rocky Mountains in Idaho, Montana, Oregon (Wallowa Range), and Wyoming, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service.

Around 250 to 300 live in this region. However, the carnivorous scavengers that can resemble tiny bears with bushy tails are extremely rare in Utah.

The last time a wolverine carcass was found in Utah was in 1979, when a wolverine was hit and killed by a vehicle on U.S. Highway 40 east of Vernal.

The most recent confirmed sighting of a wolverine in Utah happened in February 2014, when a wolverine was caught on camera at a camera bait station in the Uinta Mountains.

As each incident occurred in northeastern Utah, it may be an area within the small beasts’ territory, but not necessarily a part they’ve settled in.

“We don’t know how many wolverines live in Utah, or if they’re living here at all,” said Leslie McFarlane, mammals coordinator for the DWR. “They’re elusive, have a wide distribution range and can travel long distances. A wolverine’s territory can be as large as 350 square miles. They tend to move large distances within that territory.”

There have been multiple unconfirmed sightings of wolverines in Utah in recent years, McFarlane said, adding that it’s likely the wolverine killed last week was wandering through the state.

“To prove that wolverines are established in Utah,” she said, “we would have to have multiple sightings over a short period of time and in one particular area.”

Wolverines are not currently listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. However, in Utah, they are fully protected by state law.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.


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