Wolverine Monitoring

Wolverines are mid-sized carnivores that inhabit large (up to 500 sq mi) home ranges. Historically, they ranged throughout most of North America’s northern hemisphere, but today survive in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, California, Alaska and parts of Canada. Wolverines thrive in winter landscapes, relying on mountain snowpack for denning and raising young. They live in rugged, high elevation habitats and naturally exhibit low population densities, which can make research challenging. However, efforts by various non-profits, research organizations and government agencies continue to unravel the mysteries of this enigmatic creature.

Wolverines have captured Kalon’s imagination since he was a young man growing up in Michigan (once known as the “Wolverine State”). Since his childhood, Kalon has nurtured a curiosity for all things wild, and that ultimately led him to begin experimenting with trail cameras, which, for him, provided an ideal, non-invasive opportunity to “capture” elusive animals in their natural environments. 

Photograph by Kalon Baughan

In 2010, Kalon’s passion for conservation, skill as a self-taught naturalist, and burgeoning knowledge of trail cameras led him to volunteer, and then work with several regional organizations collecting data on lynx and wolverines as part of rare carnivore monitoring efforts. Through partnerships with state and federal agencies, as well as non-profits, the data gathered from these efforts is being used to inform species-specific conservation and management in Montana and surrounding areas.

To date, Kalon has taken thousands of photographs of at least seven individual Montana wolverines using trail cameras. These experiences have offered him a unique, personalized window into the world of this rare wild animal, but when he first began his work monitoring wolverines for research, he found visually identifying individuals difficult. The artist in Kalon was compelled to know his subjects and to find ways to confidently identify each one over time without having to rely solely on genetic analysis of hair samples. Building on methods first developed and tested by Magoun et al. (2011), Kalon developed a systematic, non-invasive protocol for photographing the unique ventral markings that characterize individual wolverines using trail cameras.

Kalon uses a wooden framework and an attractant to entice wolverines into an upright position on their hind legs while facing strategically placed trail cameras. The photographs taken of wolverines in this position not only allow individuals to be identified, but provide information on the sex of individuals and their reproductive status (for instance, if a female wolverine is lactating). In addition, Kalon’s framework sets are equipped with a series of gun brushes used to snag hair samples for DNA analysis from individuals.

In recent years, reports of wolverine sightings in Montana and some neighboring states have been increasing. There is still much to be learned about the species and Kalon hopes to continue to contribute to wolverine monitoring and research efforts into the future. 

Photograph by Kalon Baughan, courtesy of the Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative.

Photograph by Kalon Baughan, courtesy of the Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative.

"Wolverines inspire me in ways few other animals do. A world without them would just be less interesting to me."

~ Kalon Baughan