National survey evaluates presence, status of wolverines in Michigan

For the Daily
Published November 4, 2003

Did real wolverines ever roam the Wolverine State? Patrick Rusz
of the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy says yes.

“I’m a believer that there once were
wolverines,” he said.

The question surfaced recently when the Predator Conservation
Alliance, based in Bozeman, Wyo., petitioned to place the wolverine
on the endangered species list. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
declined the motion due to what they claimed was insufficient
information about the mammal.

In response to the petition, the U.S. Forest Service will
conduct a study in 2004 to determine the wolverine’s
“biology, ecology, distribution and habitat … as well
as potential threats to its existence,” said Ralph
Morgenweck, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s
Mountain-Prairie Region, in a written statement.

Rusz stated that the U.S. Forest Service will “most likely
not do field work; they will just check old records.”

Currently, the status of the wolverine, a member of the weasel
family, is labeled as “Sensitive,” states. Their numbers are declining due to
hunting and fur trapping, but there is evidence that wolverines
exist in the western United States in Montana and Idaho, as well as
some parts of Europe.

The wolverine also resides in Manitoba, a province in Canada
located just 400 miles from the western edge of the Upper
Peninsula. The wolverine’s habitat is not very specific and
their territory is large — it is entirely possible that the
wolverine could live in parts of the Upper Peninsula, Rusz

“There is lots of evidence that the wolverine was part of
the local fauna,” he added. Newspaper accounts are among the
only surviving evidence of these sightings, since there have not
been any bones or pelts found at archaeological sites. “One
assumes that if there are newspaper accounts, they probably did
happen,” Rusz said.

Rusz has been involved in five years of research on mountain
lions in Michigan, and has determined that there is sufficient
evidence that mountain lions survive in the state. He said mountain
lion sightings are reported about once per week, while in the same
five-year period, he has only heard of four wolverine reports
— all in distant locale. Remote areas such as the Keweenaw
Peninsula and Delta County, also in the Upper Peninsula, are
settings of the wolverine reports.

So why does the University boast the wolverine as its mighty
mascot? Dan Madaj, administrative associate at the
University’s Natural History Museum said that the university
teams originally called themselves the “Maroons,” and
in 1869 changed the title to “Wolverines.” The
wolverine exhibit in the Natural History Museum states, “The
wolverine has never been the state animal, nor Michigan officially
the wolverine state. The name applies exclusively to the athletic
teams of the University of Michigan.”

But even with evidence showing that the wolverine was not an
integral part of the campus, many students are not willing to elect
a new mascot. “Wolverines are tradition. I wouldn’t
want that to change,” LSA freshman Brad Seddon said.

LSA sophomore Emily Faistenhammer echoed Seddon’s
thoughts. She said, “The helmets (of the university) and the
wolverine are so recognizable, it wouldn’t be the same with a
different mascot.”

But some students see the wolverine as a useless mascot.
“If we had a mascot we could do more with, that would be
good,” LSA junior Rehab Shabana said.

For those students expecting to see a wolverine on campus, it
will come as a disappointment that the animal has not been spotted
in the Lower Peninsula in the past 100 years. But there is always
hope for spotting the large mammal.

The wolverine has large claws and padded feet, can climb trees
and is mostly nocturnal. Their fur is a dark brown with two lighter
brown stripes curving down its back. Their size is
“considerably larger than a raccoon, (and) they look about
like a bear cub,” Rusz said. They can range from three-to
three-and-a-half feet long and weigh about 25 to 40 pounds.

In comparison, 40-pound bobcats live in Michigan, so while the
wolverine is not massive, this powerful animal can successfully
attack prey five times its size. The wolverine lives an average of
less than 10 years in the wild and up to 14 in captivity.