Earlier this winter a female wolverine lost her life on US 93 in Idaho after being “clipped” by the right rear wheel of a passenger vehicle. She died on impact. She is thought to be the first wolverine to die on Idaho’s roadway system. However, with only 300 wolverines left in the northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest, each avoidable death is a blow to the fragile species. The fact that other motorists had reported seeing wolverines along this stretch of road indicates that proactive action on behalf of the Department of Transportation, Forest Service, and the public may have averted this tragedy. But how?
Research coming out of Canada may point to a solution. Using hair traps, researcher Tony Clevenger has been surveying for wolverines in the Banff-Yoho-Kootenay National Park complex in Canada and studying wildlife crossing structures along the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff National Park for over seventeen years. His research has shown that even though male wolverines are crossing the Trans-Canada Highway, the road becomes a barrier for females. The solution for getting females across may be wildlife crossing structures, including overpasses and underpasses. Through generational learning – mothers teaching their young movement routes that allow for safe passage through a landscape – many species including bears and mountain lions are using crossing structures more frequently over time. Will wolverines follow this same pattern? We can’t be sure, but at least 10 cases of wolverines using crossing structures have been documented, and further research is planned for the years ahead.
To learn more about this research on wolverines and road crossing structures listen to this interview with Dr. Tony Clevenger.