Harrison Hot Spring residents were greeted by an unusual visitor early Thursday morning (April 25), when a wolverine was spotted around The Front grocery store on Hot Springs Road.
An image of the wolverine circulated through a number of local Facebook groups, with residents warning each other to keep an eye on their pets and even their children.
Although some posted comments with a degree of fear, others gave the animal exactly what wolverine researcher and PhD student Mirjam Barrueto believes it deserves: respect.
“It’s something to be excited about,” she said, “because there’s so few in that area,” with maybe 10 animals in the entire north Cascade mountains.
In the past, their range stretched across the mountainous areas of Canada, going all the way down the Cascades Mountains in the States.
After years of hunting, the wolverines became numbered and their range reduced. It’s only now that wolverines are rebounding in the Garibaldi Mountains the the American Cascades Mountains.
According to Barrueto, those two ranges are likely where Harrison’s visitor came from.
“Your area is kind of a pinch point where animals can go from the Canadian coastal population that’s probably pretty healthy to the north Cascades population that’s really small,” she said.
“My guess would be, and that’s a total guess, is that what people saw in the backyard was probably a dispersing young male … that’s either going south or north, trying to find a place for his own territory.
She also said it was possible it was a young female doing the same thing, although that seems less likely because females are much more shy and don’t generally move across highways.
Although wolverines are small, maybe about the size of a medium-sized dog, they have territories as large as grizzly bears and patrol them each day.
“You can always only have one female in one home range,” Barrueto said. “That makes them really rare, even under the best circumstances.”
“They are also pretty sensitive with human disturbances,” she added. “When there’s too much they usually tend to abandon an area … because their needs are really at odds with our ways of using the land.”
Because of this, wolverines aren’t usually spotted in populated areas, and it’s possible one won’t be seen again in Harrison any time soon. But in case a wolverine does saunter past the Front grocery store this spring, Barrueto said the best approach is to treat it the way you would treat any other wild animal.
“They have a really big reputation because whenever they’re trapped or try to defend themselves, they make really bad noises,” she said. “I would treat them with respect … not necessarily fear, because there hasn’t really ever been attacks of wolverines on people.”
“If you surprise the wolverine, you would want to give it a lot of space,” she added. “Don’t feed it, don’t corner it, and chances are it’s going to be gone in a few minutes and you’ll never see it again.”