MCCALL, Idaho — A wolverine has been recorded on an Idaho Fish and Game camera near McCall in west-central Idaho as part of a four-state study to determine where the elusive mammals live.
A remote camera recorded at least one wolverine earlier this winter feeding on a deer leg attached to a tree about 12 miles northeast of McCall, the agency reported Friday.
Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Washington state are taking part in the study to find out if the animals that look like small bears with big claws can be reintroduced to some regions to boost their numbers.
Wolverines, a member of the weasel family, once were found throughout the Rocky Mountains and in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range. They were wiped out across most of the U.S. by the 1930s because of unregulated trapping and poisoning campaigns.
They have since recovered in parts of the West, but not in other areas of their historical range. In the Lower 48 states, an estimated 250 to 300 wolverines survive in remote areas of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and Washington state, according to wildlife officials.
The study that started this winter is using remote cameras and copper brushes to collect DNA. The work is being done in the winter when bears are hibernating so researchers can focus on the wolverines.
Under the plan, the states will come up with a map of wolverine habitat that will be useful for land trust organizations working with private landowners on conservation easements to prevent development.
In Idaho, cameras have been set up in 61 sites.
Fish and Game workers use road-killed deer and elk to attract animals, replacing the bait and checking the cameras’ memory cards. Besides the wolverine, the sites have also attracted fishers, martins, foxes, coyotes, wolves and birds.
“So far, we’ve had an animal of some variety on every camera,” said Fish and Game wildlife technician Luke Ferguson in a news release from the agency.
He and fellow technician, Peter Ott, ride snowmobiles and ski into the remotes sites that are typically between 7,000 and 9,000 feet.
Some sites are so remote they can’t be reached in winter. At those, a cow’s femur is used for bait and a special container drips scent onto it. Those cameras will be checked in the spring.