, Matthew Scrafford / WCS Canada
© Matthew Scrafford / WCS Canada

Identifying key wolverine habitat

We're surveying wolverine populations in northern Ontario to create a clearer picture of where wolverine are – and aren’t.

We spent seven winters surveying wolverine populations in the northern Ontario to create a clearer picture of where wolverine are – and aren’t. This work can help us identify key wolverine habitat before development occurs in the Ontario Northern Boreal and better understand wolverines' tolerance for human activities.

Long-term studies

WCS Canada also led a wolverine radiotelemetry study in Red Lake, Ontario from 2003–2005 and was a major partner in a similar wolverine radiotelemetry study in northern Alberta from 2013–2016.

We reestablished a field program in Ontario and, over five winters between 2018 and 2022, collared and tracked 53 wolverines to understand abundance, habitat selection, denning, survival, and foraging. We have similar data from 44 wolverines in northwestern Alberta between 2013 and 2016.

97

Wolverines tracked

255

Foraging sites documented

18

Den sites documented

120K

GPS locations

A map of the 65,000 GPS locations collected from 47 collared wolverines around Red Lake, Ontario between 2018 and 2022. Different colours represent individual wolverines, and each point is a GPS location from one of their collars. The wolverines who displayed dispersal or exploratory movements are easily seen here., WCS Canada
A map of the 65,000 GPS locations collected from 47 collared wolverines around Red Lake, Ontario between 2018 and 2022. Different colours represent individual wolverines, and each point is a GPS location from one of their collars. The wolverines who displayed dispersal or exploratory movements are easily seen here. © WCS Canada

Study underscores risk of roads in wolverine habitat

In 2024, we published groundbreaking findings relevant to the conservation of wolverines in two sites -- Ontario and Alberta, Canada -- heavily impacted by industrial activities (oil and gas extraction and forestry) and trapping. This research provides essential insights into baseline density, survival rates, and population trends in lowland boreal forests where, despite their significance in the North American distribution, wolverines have received limited research and conservation attention.

The study underscores the significant human-induced threats to wolverines, particularly highlighting the role of roads as potential danger zones where interactions with humans can elevate mortality risk. The evidence amassed through this work supports the need to carefully manage and limit road development as a cornerstone of wolverine conservation in the boreal forest. Notably, the insights garnered from this study are actively shaping conservation strategies and influencing policy decisions, including updates to the status assessment of wolverines in Ontario and Alberta, as well as informing forest management policies aimed at preserving this iconic species and its habitat.

How we use this information

  • Determining wolverine abundance in northwestern Alberta and northwestern Ontario using mark-recapture datasets with over 130 individual wolverines photographed and live trapped.
  • Describing the denning ecology of boreal wolverines and providing information to update policies protecting den sites.
  • Assessing the efficacy of wildlife identification using photographs of tracks in the snow (in collaboration with Cascades Wolverine Project).
  • Sequencing the wolverine genome and applying the genome to conservation issues (in collaboration with SickKids [Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, ON] and University of Idaho).
  • Assessing the efficacy of using scat for monitoring the reproductive status of wolverine populations (in collaboration with the Toronto Zoo).
  • Assessing wolverine stress response to human disturbance (in collaboration with the Toronto Zoo and University of Toronto).
  • Range-wide comparison of wolverine stress hormones (in collaboration with the Toronto Zoo, University of Toronto and Government of Nunavut).
  • Documenting the spatial and temporal characteristics of wolverine harvest refugia in Manitoba and Ontario (in collaboration with the Government of Manitoba).
  • Determining the applicability of caribou habitat policies in protecting wolverine habitats (in collaboration with Wilfred-Laurier University).
  • Investigating forestry road decommissioning and its effectiveness in reducing use by wildlife and people.

Stories and op-eds

Building a wolverine trap
2021-06-21

Building a wolverine trap

How do you attach a collar to a wolverine?
On the track of wolverines, from Ontario to Washington State
2021-06-12

On the track of wolverines, from Ontario to Washington State

Tracks left by wildlife provide a wealth of information that can help to inform wildlife management and conservation efforts.
Matthew Scrafford

Media coverage

Wolverine conservation on Superior Morning

Wolves, vehicles, and incidental trappings are putting wolverines at risk in Red Lake, Ontario. To find out more, we reached out to Matthew Scrafford. He's the Conservation Scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada.
2024-05-17 | CBC