UNDER THE SUN

Going ... going ... gone

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Depending on the particular source you rely on, wolverines have either been absent from Colorado since the 19th century or are potentially still in fact present in Colorado but in extremely low numbers.

Perhaps it is this uncertainty that brings sightings of wolverines from people visiting the backcountry of Routt County, or perhaps there really might be a renegade wolverine that has made our national forests its home.

While the probability is that the latter is the case, I receive at least one or two fairly credible reports of wolverine sightings each year. It was one such report that got me thinking as to how I might best enjoy the upcoming winter months.

Every year about this time, I start to wonder how I am going to survive yet another winter. Unfortunately, I am admittedly and often apologetically one of those locals who doesn't dream of snow immediately after the 4th of July. I have been advised on many occasions that I need to come up with a winter hobby to get me through these winter months.

So, with the memories of the most recent wolverine sighting still fresh in my mind, I finally have come across something that sounds intriguing enough to endure the displeasure of repeated exposure to the elements: wolverine tracking.

Wolverines are the largest weasel found in North America. They often are considered to resemble bears and it is actually quite possible that many wolverine sightings may have been small black bears. However, unlike bears, wolverines have long bushy tails that are much longer than that of a bear's, often measuring the length of its body.

Wolverines also typically have visible stripes running the length of their sides, from their necks to the base of their tails, which has given the wolverine the nickname "skunk bear."

A wolverine's tracks are also sometimes confused with a bear's, as they both have five toes on their front and hind feet. Since the fifth toe on a wolverine's front foot does not always register, their tracks are also often confused with those of a wolf or large dog. Because wolves are known to have been absent from Colorado since the 1940s, it is likely the sightings of winter tracks can be attributed to large furry pawed dogs.

Another sign that wolverines leave behind in deep snow is a large belly drag.

All my biological training and education leads me to believe that I'll not see any evidence of wolverines inhabiting our forests, but I just might see some of nature's other wildlife wonders that our county has to offer. A rare glimpse of a pine martin or perhaps a ptarmigan camouflaged in its winter regalia certainly could be enough to alter my perception of winter to that of a winter wonderland.

To report any wolverine sightings or to learn more about wolverines and other endangered species, call the Colorado Division of Wildlife Customer Service Center at 870-2197.

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