Devoted readers will recall a post a few months ago about an inordinate local interest in wolverines, sparked by a study of forest carnivores—many of them members of the Mustelid family—being made by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Last week, two IDFG biologists, Lacy Robinson and Michael Lucid, presented the findings from this study at the East Bonner County Library.
Members of the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness hosted the presentation. These individuals have a penchant for human-powered travel in their proposed wilderness, which, as it turns out, was included in the area IDFG wanted to study and was not accessible by snowmobile. Hence they were recruited to ski/snowshoe into a study site, and they enthusiastically assisted Robinson and Lucid—whom they thought of as “Mr. and Mrs. Mustelid,” in setting it up to capture the elusive carnivores on camera.
The results were both intriguing and a bit disappointing. Not a single wolverine made its presence known in the Cabinets, where the FSPW volunteers had put up their study site, but a lone wolverine did turn up in the nearby Selkirks. And the FSPW site did, at least, capture numerous martens and fishers.
The bait at each site was a beaver carcass. Mr. Mustelid went to some pains to assure the audience that the carcasses came from a trapper in Montana who has a license to trap beaver for their fur. The trapper stores the carcasses in a snowbank and doles them out to needy biologists on a first-come, first-served basis.
Conveniently, the carcasses are frozen solid when supplied for the sites. This salutary condition is one of two significant reasons for conducting such a study in winter, the other being that bears would run off with the tasty beaver if they were not hibernating.
Lucid pointed out in his presentation that beaver are also a favorite bait because they can be firmly attached to trees, and hence serve well to keep carnivores in front of nearby cameras long enough to be photographed. The skinned carcasses are wired tightly to the trees, and “we put at least three nails through the tail,” added Lucid.
But wolverines apparently like to take their meat with them, and the one wolverine caught on camera in the Selkirks was seen, in a series of time-lapse photos, to remove the carcass from its sturdy moorings within five minutes. The audience was appropriately impressed.
It turns out that a bunny was attracted to a beaver carcass as well. Although the animal couldn’t climb the tree to reach the carcass, it looked really cute sniffing the bottom of the tree. And as snowshoe hares are a favorite food of lynxes, it’s not too surprising that a lynx turned up on this camera as well.
Sticky tape and gun-cleaning brushes were attached to the trees with the carcasses, and these harvested a nice collection of fur samples from the animals that visited. The samples are headed out to a lab for DNA analysis, which will help Mr. and Mrs. Mustelid determine how many different animals visited the study sites and to what extent they are related to each other.
In an attempt to encourage a large audience for the presentation, FSPW Executive Director Phil Hough suggested on the group’s Facebook page that the biologists might bring some tasting samples of a beaver carcass for those attending, but any individuals looking forward to this treat were disappointed. For the rest of us, the photos were enough.