Skip to main content

How to Analyze a Million Wolverine Photos. For real.

How to Analyze a Million Wolverine Photos. For real.

What’s going on ‘behind the scenes’? How are ‘data’ born? With your help, we spent 3 years collecting photos (and hair samples) of wolverines across the Upper Columbia and North Thompson Regions. That was the easy part. Now, we have to create data out of about a million images!
Trevor Thompson, an undergraduate student at the University of Calgary, has joined Mirjam in the project. In this short video he explains what’s involved in the first step of photo processing, where we tag every single photo with the species on it. It’s a lot of fun, and a lot of work!
…In case you wonder, we did try to automate the process, working with an AI company. Unfortunately we found that with this particular setup, human eyes & brains are much better and quicker still at judging what species is on the photo. So, we rolled up our sleeves and got it done!

Winter recreation in wolverine country – workshop videos now live!

Winter recreation in wolverine country –   workshop videos now live!

Earlier this winter, we (aka Doris Hausleitner, Andrea Kortello and Mirjam Barrueto) participated in an online-workshop series “Wildlife Wise“, to share what we know about winter recreation in wolverine country. It’s a difficult topic, partly because, really, if we’re honest to ourselves, all wildlife but the Canada Jays and Ravens would probably prefer us staying away during the harsh months where all wildlife struggles to survive. On the other hand, most of us love spending time in the snowy mountains in winter, be it on foot, ski, sled, snowshoe – winter recreation is a big reason why we live where we do. So – what are things to consider? How does one recognize wolverine dens and caribou tracks? Which aspects of recreation create less and which create more disturbance? We don’t have all the answers (but do have some); the series is intended to give you new insights and create understanding for why biologists and land managers sometimes recommend restrictions, and sometimes don’t.

The videos are now online, and are all a bit different depending on your area of interest – but they all also apply to wolverine (and caribou) habitat in general. They start with a very short intro by Nadine Raynolds (Y2Y), a wolverine presentation by one or two of us, and then feature Aaron Reid, a wildlife biologist with the BC government, who gives great information on mountain caribou. Watch them all, here or on YouTube!

The Wildlife Wise Workshop Series was organized by Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, with much appreciated support from the Alpine Club of Canada, the Columbia Basin Trust, and the awesome Pow Gals.

Drones and Dens Update – Nov 2020


  • > Over 400 citizen scientists contributed wolverine (animal, track, den) sightings to our website:
  • > In 2020, BC Parks implemented a 400 ha voluntary backcountry skiing closure in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park around one of the wolverine dens identified in 2019. This denning area was first reported by citizen scientists! It was subsequently re-used by a wolverine during the 2020 closure period! Way to go, gulo and backcountry users!
  • > 500 ha at two other denning areas were submitted to the British Columbia Ministry of Forest, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development (FLNRORD) as candidates for protection as Wildlife Habitat Areas. These will be the first of their kind in the region!


  • > With help from Y2Y, we have told the wolverine conservation story to tens of thousands of people through radio, newsprint and online forums (Since 2019).
  • > We presented to >2000 individuals in communities in the South Columbia Mountains (Fall/winter 2019).
  • > In 2020, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic severely curtailed our operations, however, we were still able to follow up on several reported wolverine dens and identified wolverine denning activity at 2 locations and confirmed reproduction at a third – see the photos below (Spring/Summer 2020)
  • > Both den locations were in remote areas of provincial parks and will not require additional habitat protection.
  • > While field work was shut down, we adapted to pandemic constraints by shifting our focus towards creating best management practices to inform industrial, recreational and tourism operations in wolverine habitat and denning areas (Ongoing).
  • > In the fall of 2020 we are working with Y2Y on a “Wildlife Wise” workshop, for winter recreationists in the south Columbia region. These online workshops will teach winter recreationists about wolverine ecology and will help them in making ethical choices in the backcountry. More on this coming soon!

Nov 24 2019: Our new paper is out! Wolverine harvest sustainability in southern Canada.

We used the wolverine population numbers we gained during our 2010-2016 southern Canadian Rockies/Columbia Mountains studies to analyze harvest sustainability and look at which landscape factors impact wolverine density (=number of wolverines in an area). Click here to get to the PDF for a low-res version of the paper, or go here to read it on the publisher’s website (it’s open access).


Range declines, habitat connectivity, and trapping have created conservation concern for wolverines throughout their range in North America. Previous researchers used population models and observed estimates of survival and reproduction to infer that current trapping rates limit population growth, except perhaps in the far north where trapping rates are lower. Assessing the sustainability of trapping requires demographic and abundance data that are expensive to acquire and are therefore usually only achievable for small populations, which makes generalization risky. We surveyed wolverines over a large area of southern British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, used spatial capture‐recapture models to estimate density, and calculated trapping kill rates using provincial fur harvest data. Wolverine density averaged 2 wolverines/1,000 km2 and was positively related to spring snow cover and negatively related to road density. Observed annual trapping mortality was >8.4%/year. This level of mortality is unlikely to be sustainable except in rare cases where movement rates are high among sub‐populations and sizable untrapped refuges exist. Our results suggest wolverine trapping is not sustainable because our study area was fragmented by human and natural barriers and few large refuges existed. We recommend future wolverine trapping mortality be reduced by ≥50% throughout southern British Columbia and Alberta to promote population recovery.

Marathon | Highway Wilding Blog

Marathon | Highway Wilding Blog

Not sure how I get myself into these things. We have 3 more sites to check before we wrap up the wolverine survey work for this winter. A site up Bryant Creek that’s been the haunt of a hungry lynx since January, a site up Og Meadow in Mt Assiniboine Prov Park, and one site in the Upper Spray River drainage below Palliser Pass.

Mirjam and I decided to check the Bryant and Assiniboine sites. The Bryant site we ski into. Not much trouble since it’s about a 10 km ski in. The Assiniboine site we’ve been lucky to have the support of Andre Renner who’s let us fly into the Lodge with him twice. However, this late date, there’s not any flights into the Lodge, so we’ll have to ski in and ski out – could be tricky given the deteriorating snow conditions.

I had initially thought we’d spend a couple of nights at the Bryant Cabin – ski in the 15 km to the cabin. Get up next day and ski to the Assiniboine site about 15 km away and then back to the cabin. Ski out the next day, checking the Bryant hair trap.

Mirjam had another plan. Get up early, ski to Bryant, continue up to Assiniboine Pass and  to the hair trap site 3 km away, check the site, ski down the Pass to Bryant Creek and the warden cabin – an estimated 37km day.

Well, we’ve done a couple 35-40 km trips in one day this year – both times at the Spray 16 site – so what’s the big deal I thought. The more I thought about it, the easier the trip seemed, and that mix of anticipation and challenge set in.

We left Canmore at 6am and headed up towards the Smith-Dorrien road but was stopped by a locked gate just up from the Nordic Centre. A call to dispatch told us that the road was closed to wash-outs. Headed back down and around to Hwy 40 – getting a delay on our “early start” time.

We ended up at Mt Shark a little before 8am, the only car in parking lot, of course. By 8am we were skiing towards Bryant. At 1045 we’d arrived to the Bryant warden cabin – the snow was packed and skiing was fast. We opened the cabin up, got the stove fired up and began brewing tea and Top Raman noodles for an early lunch. By noon, we were back on our skis and heading towards Assiniboine Pass.

The weather turned on us, dropping in temperature and showering us with rain. By the time we arrived at Assiniboine Pass, there were low dark clouds, steady rainfall, and the occasional burst of thunder and lightening nearby.

We skied to the site, arriving around 330pm, and it definitely had all the signs of a wolverine visit. Lots of wolverine-ish looking hair on the barbs and no beaver left on the tree. We collected 17 hair samples while the rain continued to pour down on us, and finally about 430pm packed up and began the ski out of Assiniboine and back to the warden cabin.

We arrived at 700pm, soaked to the bone. In no time the cabin looked like a Chinese laundry. Pasta al pesto, some great cheese Mirjam brought (and fried), done dishes and a good night’s sleep.

Next morning, nearly clear skies, beautiful day and fast ski out. Fresh grizzly bear tracks over our ski tracks coming in. We hooted and hollered as we ski down and out along Bryant Cr. At the Bryant site, not any wolverine-ish looking hairs, but just a lot of light-coloured lynx type hairs. The cameras will tell…

Source: Marathon | Highway Wilding Blog

Daytrip | Highway Wilding Blog

Daytrip | Highway Wilding Blog


April is here. We’re close to finishing the season for wolverine work. It’s been great to continue another winter of the noninvasive survey “trapping hairs” of wolverines, keeping our backs strong, our legs firm and clothes smelling of Gusto. This year we set out relatively few (10 sites), split between the TCH corridor and a “transition area” between our large study grid and one in Kananaskis Country. This winter the full KCtry grid is being surveyed. Next winter (2012-13) we will repeat our survey over 6000km2 in Banff, Yoho and Kootenay NP, as we did in winter 2010-11.

One of our transition sites is in the Spray River drainage. I skied into the site yesterday (Monday Apr 9) to check it for the last time and take it down. No beaver or smelly lure to carry in, so a much lighter load than before. Skiing this time of year can be tricky given the warm temperatures during mid and latter part of day, slowing one down to a laborious trudge, snow sticking to skis, and the constant pole whack on the skis. For that reason I left early, was skiing by 730am.

Start at Goat Creek trailhead and bombed down the icy trail to the Spray River junction. Record time, slightly less than 1 hr – and didn’t fall once! From the junction, our site is about 10km up the Spray drainage. Beautiful morning ski. Don Gorrie snowmobiled in day before to bring out the beaver barrel located near the hair trap site, so having a packed trail made skiing fast. I was following 2-3 day old wolverine tracks down the trail, heading the same direction I was. They went for 3-4 kilometres and most of the time were two tracks, interweaving, one on one side, one on the other, occasionally same side. By 1115am I was at the site. Took down the camera. Collected 10 hair samples (some looking wolverine-ish). Pulled down the barbed wire. Decided to ski back out since the conditions were so fast, rest of day was supposed to stay cool (+7 C) and wouldn’t likely run into sloppy crust-breaking snow. On the return, I found 2 scats along the wolverine tracks (missed them on the way in) and collected them (like hairs) for genetic analysis to confirm species, individual and gender identification. Spring like conditions on the way out. No one seen on the trail anywhere. Arrived at Goat Creek parking lot at 5pm (quitting time!).

Source: Daytrip | Highway Wilding Blog

Of Gusto and Gulos… | Highway Wilding Blog

Of Gusto and Gulos… | Highway Wilding Blog

Winter is a busy time for us. This is when a large part of our field research takes place. Here the long winters and abundant snow provides advantages to other seasons. Hungry bears are asleep, that might otherwise wreak havoc on beaver baits set out at wolverine hair traps. Snow cover reveals – magically – the movements (and behaviours!) of wildlife in the highway corridor and around culverts, which is impossible to decipher in the dry months.

Wolverines ? – Next year is another big year for us. But this winter we’re collaborating with wolverine surveys in Kananaskis Country by setting hair traps and collecting data on wolverines in a boundary region between our national park study area and theirs to the east. We’ve put out 3 hair traps so far and will set two more this month. Within our study area we’ve set a half dozen wolverine hair traps within the TCH corridor, to try and collect more information on where wolverines are crossing the highway (if at all!) and hitting some spots where we struck out last winter. In total we’ll be managing about a dozen hair traps this winter. Mirjam Barrueto is helping with this work, as is Ben Dorsey from time to time. Nikki Heim who assisted on the wolverine survey last year is running the KCtry survey as part of her Masters project at U Vic.

Much of what comes up on this blog will probably be from our wolverine work. Not that weasels and meadow voles’ running through culverts isn’t sexy, but it’s hard to compete with ‘le carcajou’. A short glossary of terms is in order that will help understand some of the jargon we use as part of the research.

Gulo Glossary (not alphabetical)

Gulo = wolverine…Gulo is the genus of the species Gulo gulo (doubly “Gulo”!).

Gusto = extremely pungent, foul-smelling trappers lure (irresistible to Gulos) that we smear on a small rag and hang high to bring wolverines into the area of a hair trap. Some people really like the smell, and the more you’re around it the more you’re convinced it has a hint of anise, along with skunk scent glands and who knows what else.

Beaver bits = while setting a hair trap, bits of frozen beaver carcass that comes raining down on you as you hold the beaver carcass 2 m high up against a tree and your “partner” hammers vigorously, spiking the carcass to the tree.

Beaver jacket = appropriate attire (usually picked up for cheap at Value Village) used to shield you from the shower of beaver bits….

Buggers = coined by Barb Bertch…these are baits (beavers) that are frozen into a misshaped mass of …beaver…and don’t lie flush against the hanging tree.

Wolveriners (pronounced: wol – ve – reeners) = that’s us! And anyone that joins us.

Wolverining = that’s where we go when we set up a hair trap.

Wolverine party truck = our smelly work vehicle.

Prayer flag = Gusto-smeared rag hung high from a tree near the hair trap site.

More vocabulary to come…

Hope you like the website…

Don’t forget to check out videos that award-winning filmmaker Leanne Allison has created.

Also our Wolverine website where you can record with an online mapping tool observations of wolverines or their tracks you come across.

We’ll also be posting photos from our ‘camera traps’ that take you from the comfort of your internet connection to backcountry ski trails and snowladen glades full of wolverine tracks and wanderings.

We’ll try to keep this dynamic and full of surprises…


Source: Of Gusto and Gulos… | Highway Wilding Blog