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Posts Tagged ‘wolverines’

I missed this when it first came out on PBS in Nov 2010, but a colleague just sent me the link to this video (Thanks, Caryn!), which is a companion piece to the book The Wolverine Way, which I wrote about back in October.

PBS Video. Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom

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"The Wolverine Way" Douglas Chadwick. Patagonia Books 2010

I mentioned this book, “The Wolverine Way” by Douglas Chadwick, back in July after posting about the Ocelot sighting in Arizona, and I’ve been meaning to write a full review since finishing it.  (Yes, I know it’s been a while.  Other half-written posts since then have included Experiments in Pickling, How to Build a Cold Smoker, and several food-related summer ideas that could possibly end up at some point in the future as a collaborative food blog.  More on that later if it comes to fruition.)

I first read about Chadwick’s book in an essay of the same title “The Wolverine Way” in a Patagonia catalog, which described the project and the book, and it contains longer excerpts than included here.  It’s what got me hooked on the book.

This book is fascinating, and a must-read for any outdoor enthusiast or armchair biologist.  Chadwick describes his experience on the Glacier Wolverine Project, and he introduces you to this incredible dynamo of an animal with first-hand accounts of his work tracking and tagging wolverines in Montana.  He also brings you into the circle of the dedicated leaders and volunteers who carried out the study; these are people I’d love to sit around a campfire with.  (I was a seasonal wildlife intern for a few years before I started teaching, studying birds, and this is a project I wish I had known about back then, because I’d have been happy to switch over to mammals for a while.  Plus, let’s be honest, who else would you rather sit around a campfire with?  Field biologists, quirky as they are, make for great conversation.)

In the grand scheme of things, for a North American mammal in the 21st century, we don’t know a ton about wolverines.  Their scientific name, Gulo gulo, literally means “glutton glutton.”  Although they consume what they must (when they can) in a quite unforgiving habitat, they have largely been vilified over the course of history through myth, misunderstanding, and hyperbole.  Chadwick provides some insight into their natural history, including new information on its territorial ranges, metabolism, diet, and social structure within family groups.  He also describes the selective forces that have served to shape the wolverine over thousands of years into the creature that it is today, one built for the brutal cold, for survival on ice-covered peaks, where it has a distinct advantage over just about anything.

“…the list of adaptations that allow wolverines to make an ally of winter is impressive.  Yet until scientists started to focus on climate change, no one gave much thought to how creatures with built-in snowshoes, a super-cozy fur coat, smoldering metabolism, and food cached in nature’s refrigerators are supposed to handle swimsuit weather in our ever-toastier Age of Industrial Exhaust.”

I also appreciate that Chadwick is working to bring wider attention to the Freedom to Roam initiative (along with Patagonia), an effort to to connect large areas of wilderness with migratory corridors for animals. He describes wolverines as basically “badass, but vulnerable,” and he explains why in another Patagonia Environmentalism Essay called “The One Thing Wolverines Can’t Take On.”  All are worth reading.

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From Patagonia’s The Cleanest Line blog, “Witness For Wildlife Trip Produces Photo of First Live Ocelot In Arizona.”

The ocelot recently photographed in Cochise County, Arizona. Photo: ©2009 Sky Island Alliance.

Ocelots are tropical cats, and they’ve been known to range into Northern Mexico and Texas.  This article tells of the first known Ocelot seen in Arizona; the photo was taken by Michael Quigley in November of 2009 with a camera set up with a motion sensor.  This is significant for a number of reasons, and the article above mentions the importance of wildlife corridors in protecting sensitive and endangered species.

I just finished Doug Chadwick’s book, The Wolverine Way, which chronicles his work as a volunteer on the Glacier Wolverine Project. More to follow on that in a future post.  But one of the things he hammers home on is this idea of natural corridors to connect wilderness areas.  That’s one of the things that can help the chances of the wolverine (or the ocelot).  Small population sizes and slow reproductive rates can translate to slim margins for error when it comes to survival of certain species.  Protected areas like Glacier National Park are great, but for a wide-ranging predator like the wolverine, safe havens free from development and trapping pressures can be separated by hundreds of miles, and those protected areas are essentially islands.  It’s difficult to survive on islands.  Your food runs out, disease hits, your habitat is destroyed, predators increase, etc, you’re pretty much stuck.  For that reason, islands generally support less biodiversity than mainland habitats (proportional to their size).  For more on that and the trophic cascades that can result from disturbances, see David Quammen’s Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions.

These organizations are doing good work in support of wildlife corridors in North America:

Witness for Wildlife

Freedom to Roam

Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative

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