Wolverines in Colorado and Utah

Repost from the old site.

Separate posts on this blog deal extensively with wolverines in Oregon, Washington, Idaho (here and here), Wyoming, Nevada, the Upper Midwest and New Mexico. There are also five posts on the wolverine in California.

This post was split off from an earlier post that got too large, California Wolverine Re-discovered After 85 Years. This particular post will deal with the question of wolverines in the states of Utah and Colorado.

Wolverines are present in Colorado on the Pike and White River National Forests and in Utah in the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains and in Sanpete County in central Utah.

The Pike National Forest southwest of Denver, Colorado. This forest is believed to harbor wolverines. The famous Pike’s Peak is located in this forest.
The Manti-La Sal National Forest in Utah in Sanpete County. This county in central Utah is believed to harbor a wolverine population. This area is northeast of Fillmore, Utah, which is the sighting nearest to Nevada.

 

I recently received a report of a good, but unconfirmed, wolverine sighting in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The sighting occurred on August 20, 1989 in the Upper Escalante River Canyon at the junction with Coyote Gulch (map here). The wolverine was in the canyon chasing a beaver near its beaver dam. It also swam across the river.

The sighting was by a man with a Master’s Degree in Ecology from UC Davis. The elevation for the sighting was 4,100 feet, but wolverines are not always found at high elevations.

This is an extremely unusual place to see a wolverine, but they probably used to live here. There are place names such as “Wolverine Bench” on the map in the Escalante Canyon area and wolverines used be found into northern Arizona. If wolverines existed in northern Arizona, clearly they existed in the Glen Canyon area. Wolverines live in very similar habitat in the Snake River Canyon in Idaho.

The Upper Escalante River Canyon is in the Aquarius Plateau, which has 50,000 acres of land above 11,000 feet. That’s clearly wolverine habitat. The junction of Coyote Gulch and the Upper Escalante is a ways away from the Plateau, but it’s likely a dispersing juvenile could be found in the area. A photo of the terrain is here.

There have been sporadic wolverine sightings for decades in Colorado.

A Colorado Department of Wildlife biologist spotted one south of Trapper Lake in Flat Tops Wilderness in the mid-1960’s.

 

Trapper Lake in the Flat Tops Wilderness. Canyon walls tower up to 1,000 feet at this late at the 9,500 foot elevation level. Fishing is very popular in this lake and it is said to be very good.

The Flat Tops is partly in the White River National Forest and partly in the Routt NF. There was another unconfirmed sighting of tracks from the Flat Tops in 2003.

A photo of Vail ski resort and the town of Vail, Colorado as seen from Red Sandstone Road, which goes north of town. A wolverine was seen on this road recently. Click to enlarge.

Recently, there was an unconfirmed wolverine sighting 4-5 miles up Red Sandstone Road in Vail, Colorado on the White River National Forest.

 

The famous Maroon Bells in the White River National Forest in western Colorado. Aspen and Vail are also located in this forest. I spent a week skiing in Aspen in 1978. Great place! The White National Forest is believed to harbor a wolverine population. Along with Pike NF, these may be the only populations in the state.

 

There was another unconfirmed sighting of a wolverine chasing a boy on a motorcycle down a road in the Routt National Forest in far northern Colorado some years ago. The Routt is near Steamboat Springs up by the Wyoming border.

There have been multiple unconfirmed wolverine sightings in Rocky Mountain National Park since 2000.

In June 1979, a man watched a wolverine for four minutes as it approached a bear bait he had set near Parshall in Grant County. That area is southwest of Rocky Mountain National Park.

 

A photo of the Aspen Canyon Ranch in Parshall, Colorado. A wolverine was seen here in 1979. Parshall is not much of a town. It is really just an unincorporated collection of small homes and trailers. There are dude ranches all around here. That may be the Colorado River in the photo, as it runs through town here near its headwaters. Fishing is supposed to be great in the river here.

 

In June 1978, a couple photographed an adult wolverine with three cubs in the Uncompagre. In the late 1980’s, there was an unconfirmed sighting of a wolverine in the Uncompagre Wilderness on the Uncompagre National Forest. The Uncompagre is in southern Colorado and is located about 20 miles northwest of Telluride.

In March 1979, three biologists with the Colorado Department of Wildlife saw a wolverine near the Rifle Falls Fish Hatchery near Rifle, Colorado in Garfield County in western Colorado.

 

Rifle Mountain Park, 13 miles north and just beyond the Rifle Falls Fish Hatchery, the largest fish hatchery in Colorado. There is great ice climbing here during the winter and mountain climbing the rest of the year. You don’t even have to worry about rain much because the cliffs catch so much of it and you can always take shelter under one. A wolverine was seen near here in 1979.

Also in March 1979, a man shot a wolverine on Highway 40, 1½ miles west of the Colorado border in Utah near Dinosaur, Colorado.

In June 1978, a man took three photos of a wolverine crossing a snow field on Trinchera Peak (13,513 feet) in the Sangre de Christo Mountains in southern Colorado.

 

The spectacular Trinchera Peak in the Sangre de Cristos. Bighorns roam on the top slopes of the mountain.

There have also been quite a few sightings in the San Juan Mountains north of Durango and southeast of Wolf Creek Pass.

In July 1977, a man found a wolverine skull in the East Fork of the Cinnamon River Drainage in Gunnison County. The skull was less than 10 years old.

Wolverines have also been spotted, incredibly, near Sterling on the Great Plains in northeastern Colorado, which seems very odd, but looking through all of these reports, it becomes apparent that wolverines in Wyoming, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Iowa and Minnesota may indeed use prairie habitat.

An incredible photo of a tornado over Sterling, Colorado from a storm-chaser page. Storm-chasers chase tornadoes so they can get pictures of them, or just to watch them. Pretty dangerous sport. Click to enlarge. I think it is quite clear by now that wolverines do use prairie habitat.

Even aboriginally, prairie was thought to be marginal for wolverines, but perhaps that was wrong. Pre-contact, vast herds of buffalo roamed the prairie, and there would be plenty of dead buffalo for the scavenging wolverine to eat.

References

Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Predator Conservation Alliance, Defenders of Wildlife, Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, and Superior Wilderness Action Network. 2000. Petition for a Rule to List the Wolverine (Gulo gulo luscus) as Threatened or Endangered under the Endangered Species Act within the Contiguous United States . Submitted to the U.S. Dept. of Interior Fish and Wildlife Service on July 11, 2000.

Nead, D. M., Halfpenny, J. C., and Bissell, S. 1984. The Status of Wolverines in Colorado. Northwest Sci.: 58: 286-289.

Predator Conservation Alliance. 2001. Predator Conservation Alliance’s Literature Summary – Draft – January 24, 2001 – Draft Conservation Status and Needs of the Wolverine (Gulo gulo).

39 Comments

Filed under Americas, Animals, Carnivores, Colorado, Endangered Species, Environmentalism, Mammals, Mustelids, Regional, USA, Utah, West, Wild, Wildlife, Wolverines

39 responses to “Wolverines in Colorado and Utah

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  12. David May

    I knew I had seen a Wolverine while driving at sunset on highway 40 in Colorado. I did not know what it was until I watched a TV show later. I knew it was big and ir ran across the road in front of me. Colorado was not supossed to have Wolverines in the late 70’s. David May, Pioneer, CA.

  13. Jason Willard

    Back in 1997-98 a fellow naturalist and I spotted a wolverine above Fish Lake in southern Utah, the elevation was around 10,000 feet, the sighting occurred in mid day, we watched it cross an open meadow from one stand of trees across a boulder field to another stand of trees, the sighting lasted for a couple minutes and it was quite exciting to see. At the time I had no idea they existed in Utah, I consider myself very fortunate to have seen it.

    • Brandon P.

      About two years ago (2010), we were driving from the Mirror Lake area toward Kamas, (Utah) A few hundred yards ahead of me I saw a small critter lope across the oil road. (I say lope because that is how it ran…few animals have such a gate) I could not place what it was until i watched a show on wolverines and saw young wolverines running around. It didn’t look like a marten. For a bear it was too slender and had a small head and a tail. I now know that it was a wolverine.

      • Brendan

        I have seen several sighting of wolverines in the same area within the last year or so. The sightings have occurred just as you described…dashing across the road in the Uintas.

  14. Will

    A good friend of mine claims he saw one west of Cripple Creek Colorado on the back side of Pikes Peak. In fact he said he did’nt think anything of it until I told him they were supposedly extinct in Colorado. After that he said I’m sure it was a wolverine. I believe him, we’ve been hunting out west together for many years. He has very good eyes, and has been given the name eagle eye. If he says he saw a wolverine cross the road in front of him I would have to believe him.

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  17. Sherr Hawthorne

    In about 1995 my husband and I saw a wolverine in Colorado on the base of Grand Mesa. It was about 1 am and we were starting up the north side of the Mesa. The animal had just crossed the road in front of us and his progress was slowed by an embankment. He was just a few feet away. At first we thought it was a bear cub. He had long brown hair and a lighter stripe on his side, and appeared to be about 45#’s. We reported it to a ranger on top of the Mesa. He said it was rare but there had been a few reports of sitings. I am positive it was a wolverine as there are no similar western mammals of this size and description.

  18. Kenyon

    I also spotted one in Rocky Mountain National Park, above treeline on Trail Ridge Road. I only caught a glimpse of it as it dashed in among some boulders, but due to the size of it and the tail, as well as its gait, there was nothing else it could have been.

  19. jacqi

    My husband and I were visiting the Fremont Indian State Park located in Sevier County, Utah this July and saw what I think now may have been a wolverine. It was dark red/brown with a black tail and was running in the brush along a creekside. It struck us as odd because of the way it ran/waddled, reminded us of a badger but the colour was completely wrong. This area is near the location of Fish Lake as mentioned in an earlier post but I believe at a much lower elevation.

  20. Long ago, about 1975, I easily and surely spotted a Wolverine scurrying across a rock field near Eureka Lake in the Sangre De Cristos. It screeched a very unique sound as it ran away upon sighting me.

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  22. Lynn Johnson

    In 1987, my son and I were on our vacation in Utah; and while at Capitol Reef National Monument, I know I saw a wolverine while on a hike. It ran too quickly to photograph, but there was no doubt in my mind that it was a wolverine although the ranger said that it was an impossible sighting. I am glad I found this site, because I will always remember that day.

    • J York

      i saw one on pleasant creek just outside the park by notom bench a few years ago. typical ranger if they havent seen it its not there…I believe you and i to will remeber the one i saw

  23. roger moreland

    In the early summer, mid-90’s, wife and I were coming down from Wyoming, south side of Flaming Gorge Resevoir on Utah Hwy. 44, somewhere west of where it intersects 191 (Dagget County)…. Going thru high mtn. meadow, when the car in front of us slammed on its brakes and, as we passed, we saw them pointing out window across this flat…and out of the flowers and grass here came this thing lumbering along like a 45 lb. yellow fringed brown rug with legs…. We stopped about 50 yards past the first car, and he (I assume from his size) went right between us like we weren’t even there & just kept going, klunking along in a straight line till he was out of sight. We were too astounded to grab for the camera, but I’ll never forget it and we do realize how lucky we were to have seen it. No doubt in my mind; and, again, it was a big healthy-looking bastard.

  24. J York

    I saw a Wolverine early one morning a few years ago. I was walking along pleasent creek in southern utah between the Henry Mts. and Boulder Mt. and watched it come down from a cottonwood tree and walk away from me. I was glad to have a very deep trench between us it was only about twenty feet from me. I checked the track and referenced a book a few minutes later to make sure it was not a badger. It was wolverine.

  25. Johnie

    I saw a wolverine on the east side of Buffalo Peak due west of Antero reservoir in Pike National Forest at an elevation of about 10,500 feet. This sighting was made in 1998 while deer hunting. The animal was about 150 yards away running uphill and disappeared over the ridge top. The sighting lasted only about 20 seconds but I can still remember every detail because it was the only wolverine I have seen in the wild since leaving Alaska in 1967. My fellow hunters were not convinced when I told them but I know exactly what I saw.

  26. Brendan

    I live in Sandy, Utah and frequent the Uintas every summer. I have been fortunate to have seen several wolverines this last year and am wondering if their populations are doing well there, or if i’m just lucky. I have also seen a wolverine on several occasions at the Brighton Ski Resport in the Little Cotton Wood Canyon (Utah). The sightings of this wolverine have all occurred in the late spring, when the weather has warmed up enough to hike, but there’s enough snow to make it muddy and somewhat challenging. The sightings at Brighton have all occurred near one of the lower alpine lakes…I think one is called St. Catherine’s. Sighted Wolverines at Brighton have all been near very large boulders. Besides seeing the wolverine, I was able to confirm it by its tracks.

  27. Jake H

    My wife and I saw what we now realize was a wolverine in the mountains above Mt. Pleasant, Utah (Sanpete County) in the summer of 2011. We initially thought it was a strangely colored bear with ugly shaggy dark brown fur. After trying to figure out what we saw we decided to look up ‘wolverines’ on the web and after getting past pictures of comic books we immediately recognized the animal pictures as what we saw that day.

    It was standing near a tree and seemed to be eating some vegetation. It did not seem at all scared of us, and it looked scary and maybe even fierce. I wish we would have thought to take a picture of it, but by the time I realized how odd it looked it was gone.

  28. coyotejoe

    In the summer of ’76 or ’77 I got a very good close up look at a wolverine in the foothills above Littleton Co. It was on the side of a dirt road and I stopped my truck right next to it and we stared each other eye to eye from less than 30 feet for half a minute or so before it wandered off, not seeming the least bit concerned. I attempted to report my sighting to the DOW but those aragant know-it-alls refused to believe me, insisting it must have been a marmot or a badger even thought I was a professional trapper and had skinned many marmots and badgers. But as it happened a few weeks later that critter got itself stuck in the basement of a house under construction on the south edge of Littleton and the DOW jerks finally had to admit “by golly it was a wolverine”. LOL

  29. Steve M.

    We saw a wolverine in a remote area above the Brush Lakes in the Sangre de Christo Wilderness just this week. When I saw it I said to a friend, “what was that?” as I had never seen an animal like that. It was as big as a dog but shaped like a weasel and moved like a weasel and had a tail that was bob-like. Very fast. Gone in a flash. I have hiked extensively in the Rockies but have never seen any animal resembling that. Then I figured it must be a wolverine. Unfortunately it was moving far to fast for me to take a picture. I have seen plenty of marmots and this was definitely not a marmot.

  30. Nancy Elizabeth Renfrow

    Saw a wolverine in San Luis Valley of Southern Colorado….Around end of September of 2011@ 9:30 pm.Was sitting in middle of a gravel county road….near mountains and Rio Grande River.

  31. Bri

    I saw one earlier this summer in Provo canyon. I was at a park That is located in the lower section of the canyon when I noticed a bulky animal walk across a small rock ledge along hillside and huddle below tree. I was able to watch for several minutes before it went out of view. At that point I had no idea what it was. I studied the Utah DWR site and could not ID it against any known mammals in Utah. I saw a couple other times and was finally able to observe it through Binoculars. I finally realized it was a wolverine. I haven’t seen it since, but I hope to get a photo of it via a tree camera.

  32. curtis farrell

    In the summer of 1976 or 77 I saw a wolverine while fishing the Middle Fork of Arapahoe Creek in the Routt Forest (near Rand). I never got around to reporting this sighting to the Colo Dept of Wildlife although I read an article in the Denver Post about an ongoing Wolverine study. At first I had thought it was a Pine Martin but I did a little research and decided it must have been a Wolverine. I grew up in the Adirondacks and spent a big part of my summers camping and fishing in Colorado from 1970 to 1999. I had seen every wild animal in their natural environment except for mountain lion and wolf.

    The Wolverine was walking on a log on the opposite side of the creek no more than 25 feet from me. It looked directly at me as I came from behind some bushes. It didn’t have an expression of fear–more like it was sizing me up.

  33. Gwen Love

    About 2amd a half years ago I saw an animal dead on the shoulder of the road near my home in Marana Arizona. It was quite large and unfamiliar to me so I got out of my car to get a closer look. It was night time so I aimed my headlights at at. But I still couldn’t figure out what it was. I took pictures with my phone but the quality was too poor. By early the next morning the carcass was gone. About a week later at a friend’s house a program came on TV about wolverines. I instantly recognized it as the same thing I had seen that night on the side of the road! Is this possible???

    • I do not know if it is possible or not. Wolverines may have lived in Arizona in historical times. You should have picked that thing up and put it in your trunk though. And then, assuming you were going home, put it in your freezer! It sounds insane, but it might have made you famous.

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