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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!

Report observations: we fixed the map, and you can now upload multiple photos

We continue to collect wolverine sightings from throughout Canada, but especially our study areas in British Columbia, and will for the foreseeable future. We (finally) fixed some of the most common problems people encountered:

  • – You can now upload multiple photos
  • – You can now upload videos (we adjusted file size upper limits)
  • – The map works again

We can’t follow up with every submission right away, but will contact you if we have further questions. Every submission is valuable, especially those with photos and videos, and we have learned a lot from them.

If your observation was made in an area where another project is taking place, we usually forward it to the local biologist (e.g. in the US, or in Ontario).

Keep them coming! It’s incredible where wolverines will show up!

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.

Film Tour in the Kootenays: Nov/Dec 2019

Film Tour in the Kootenays: Nov/Dec 2019

Ever wanted to see a real wolverine biologist? Do you live in BC’s Kootenay Region? Join us for a screening of the 20-minute film Chasing a Trace in your community. The film is followed by a presentation from one of our biologists, who will be highlighting wolverine research happening in the region.

Info on dates and locations:

Get your wolverine questions ready and book a ticket! The events are organized by Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) and Wildsight. Thank you also to our tour sponsors and partners: Columbia Basin Trust, MEC and Ambler.

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