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Sources and patterns of wolverine mortality in western Montana

Squires, John R.; Copeland, Jeffrey P.; Ulizio, Todd J.; Schwartz, Michael K.; Ruggiero, Leonard F. 2007. Sources and patterns of wolverine mortality in western Montana. Journal of Wildlife Management. 71(7): 2213-2220.

We instrumented 36 wolverines (Gulo gulo) on 2 study areas in western Montana and one study area on the Idaho-Montana (USA) border: 14 (9 M, 5 F) on the Pioneer study area, 19 (11 M, 8 F) on the Glacier study area, and 3 (2M, 1 F) on the Clearwater study area. During 2002-2005, harvest from licensed trapping accounted for 9 (6 M, 3 F) of 14 mortalities, including individuals from all 3 study areas. Based on Akaike's Information Criterion adjusted for small sample sizes (AICc) rankings of 8 a priori models, a trapping model and a trapping-by-sex interaction model were equally supported ([Delta]AICc < 2) in explaining wolverine survival. Estimated annual survival was 0.80 when we did not consider harvest, whereas additive mortality from harvest reduced annual survival to 0.57. Glacier National Park in the Glacier study area provided some refuge as evidenced by an annual survival rate of 0.77 compared to 0.51 for the Pioneer Mountain study area. We incorporated these survival rates into a simple Lefkovitch stage-based model to examine rates of population change. The finite rate of population change ([lambda]) for the Glacier study area was 1.1, indicating a stable to slightly increasing population, whereas [lambda] for the Pioneer study area was 0.7, indicating a 30% annual population decrease during our study. Changes in [lambda] for both study areas were most sensitive to adult survival. In 2004, we used a Lincoln Index to estimate that 12.8 [plus-minus] 2.9 (95%CI) wolverines resided in the 4 mountain ranges comprising the Pioneer study area, suggesting that small, island ranges in western Montana supported few individuals. Our results suggest that if wolverines are harvested, they should be managed within individual mountain ranges or small groupings of mountain ranges to limit mortality to within biologically defined limits in recognition of the increased vulnerabilities owing to low fecundity and low population numbers in small mountain ranges. We found that refugia, such as Glacier National Park, were important by reducing trap mortality and providing immigrants to the surrounding population, but even large parks were inadequate to provide complete protection to wolverines from trapping as they ranged outside park borders.

Keywords: Gulo gulo, harvest management, known-fate modeling, Montana, mortality, Program MARK, survival rates, trapping, wolverine

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Title: RMRS Other Publications: Sources and patterns of wolverine mortality in western Montana
Electronic Publish Date: November 7, 2007
Last Update:
November 7, 2007

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