This post was split off from an earlier post that got too large, California Wolverine Rediscovered After 85 Years. This particular post will deal with the question of wolverines in the Upper Midwest. Until recently, wolverines had been extinct in the Upper Midwest for 85-200 years.
However, one was photographed recently in Michigan. Furthermore, there have been some tantalizing sightings in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota and even a few in Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri in recent years. It is distinctly possible the wolverines may be reclaiming some of their historical territory in the Upper Midwest. If so, this is fascinating indeed.
Wolverines in Michigan
In 2004, a wolverine was photographed in Ubly, Michigan, 90 miles north of Detroit. They were extirpated from Michigan almost 200 years ago. DNA testing of this wolverine showed that it was from Alaska. How it got from Alaska to Michigan is anyone’s guess. On March 14, 2010, this wolverine was found dead in Sanilac County, Michigan, south of where it was originally sighted in Ubly.
There have been other sightings in Lower Michigan. In November 1958, a wolverine was seen near Cadillac, Michigan by a boy who was deer hunting.
A wolverine was sighted around 1998-2000 in Tawas, Michigan.
In August 2009, a wolverine was spotted by motorists twice in short period of time just outside of Alpena, Michigan which is on the shore of Lake Huron in the far north of the Thumb near the Upper Peninsula.
In November 2009, four people spotted a wolverine outside of West Brach, Michigan in the north of the Thumb south of Huron National Forest.
These wolverines could have come down from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan because there are wolverine sightings there. Or possibly they could have come from Southern Ontario near Port Huron, though that area is densely populated. There is known to be a population in Ontario, albeit in the northern part.
The sightings on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan have been in Delta County, Tahquamenon Falls State Park and the Keweenaw Peninsula. I assume that the Upper Peninsula population came from Ontario, possibly across the St. Mary’s River, if it freezes over in wintertime.
There was also an unverified wolverine sighting in the UP on November 21, 2001 at 3 PM, crossing Highway M-64 1 mile south of Silver City in Ontonagon County, Michigan. In August 2008, a wolverine was spotted in the UP in the garden of the Big Bay Lighthouse on Lake Superior.
Wolverines in Minnesota
In the late 2000’s, there was rash of wolverine sightings around Babbitt, Minnesota, which is near Ely in the far northeastern part of the state near Canada. A tiny lynx population has recently also been confirmed there. The sightings around Babbitt appear to be genuine. Babbitt is surrounded by the Superior National Forest, and there are frequent sightings of bears and even wolves in the area, even inside city limits.
In addition, there was one documented sighting in Northeastern Minnesota in 1965, but details are lacking. In 1974 there was a report of a wolverine in a hay field in North-Central Minnesota, near the North Woods. There was also a sighting on Koochiching County on the Minnesota border with Canada in 1982. That sighting was deemed credible.
In early 2008, there have been reports of dog and horse kills in and around Rollag, Minnesota lately. Certain things about the killings indicate that a wolverine may be doing this. Rollag is far to the north, getting up near the North Woods. It is east of and not far from Fargo, North Dakota.
In 1991, a baby wolverine was seen dying by the side of the road on Highway 232 near Lake Nichols close to Cotton, Minnesota. The motorists did not know how rare it was or else they would have kept the carcass. In 1999, a wolverine was spotted by a canoeist in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota on the border of Ontario, Canada.
In November 2004, a wolverine was seen eating a gut pile from a dead deer near Askov, Minnesota.
In 2005, a wolverine was spotted in the Tamarack National Wildlife Refuge northeast of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.
In Summer 2006, a fisherman fishing in the Narrows between Big and Little Cut Foot Sioux Lakes in Northern Minnesota saw a wolverine. He was able to watch it for 15 minutes until it caught his scent and left.
In Summer 2008, a wolverine was spotted in the forest of Eagles Nest, Minnesota, south of Ely and north of Tower. In Fall 2008, a hunter spotted a wolverine in the Black Brook Swamp east of Camp Ripley, Minnesota.
In 2010, a deer hunter saw a wolverine in Douglas County, Minnesota. Another wolverine was photographed near there five years later. In July 2010, a wolverine was seen by a motorist at night on US 53 ten miles south of International Falls, Minnesota. In Summer 2010, a wolverine was seen outside of Chisholm, Minnesota near Superior State Park.
In July 2011, a wolverine was seen crossing Highway 232 near Lake Nichols close to Cotton, Minnesota.
On January 12, 2012, a wolverine was spotted somewhere in Southern Minnesota. Someone went out to their car late at night, and a wolverine was by the garage. Tracks were found the very next day.
On July 12, 2012, two hunters saw a wolverine while driving on the Dick’s Parkway road 13 miles south of Warroad, Minnesota. The GPS location was given as 48 42.131, -95 20.566.
On October 20, 2012 at midnight, a wolverine was seen on someone’s driveway in Ham Lake, Minnesota.
At 6 PM on On October 13, 2013, a wolverine was seen in the Superior National Forest crossing Pike Lake Road on the east side of Pike Lake between Lutsen and Grand Marais, Minnesota. This is seven miles from Lake Superior.
On June 6, 2014, a wolverine was spotted in Jordan, Minnesota in a corn and alfalfa field. It was running away from a neighbor’s elk ranch. Two men observed it for a full two minutes. The areas consists of open farm country with some random tree lines.
On June 13, 2014 at 2:30 in the afternoon, a wolverine was seen crossing Road 327 in Watowan County, Minnesota. It was seen two miles east and six miles north of Saint James, Minnesota on the Watowan River.
On April 30, 2015, two wolverines were seen running, one behind the other, just east of Rush City, Minnesota in the Saint Croix River Valley.
In May 2015, a wolverine was photographed by a trail cam in Douglas County, Minnesota. I have seen the photo and felt that it was interesting but inconclusive. I showed the photo to a wolverine expert, and he also said it could be a wolverine, but it was unclear enough so it was inconclusive.
Many have questioned whether wolverines were actually common in prairies or if prairies merely served as population sinks. It is looking more and more like prairies are a natural home for wolverines, strange as it may seem. If these reports are accurate, it means that wolverines are re-colonizing Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and possibly also Iowa, which is fantastic news!
Wolverines in Wisconsin
The occurrence of the wolverine in Wisconsin is rare but documented.
On an unknown date, a wolverine was spotted on Peshtigo Brook Fire Road where it joins Kitzinger Road near Gillett, Wisconsin.
In May 1978, a wolverine was spotted by a boy and his father while walking along the Oconto River in Oconto County eight miles west of Crooked Lake, Wisconsin. The boy was able to observe it for one minute.
A man grew up in Land O’ Lakes in far Northern Wisconsin on the border with Michigan in an area known as the North Woods. This is an area of very thick, wild forest and swamps. There are many wolves, bears, and possibly wolverines in this part of Wisconsin.
In 1982, the man saw three wolves in his front yard. In 1990, he and his friends treed 22 different bears in a single day while training bear dogs. They also had a frightening standoff with a wolverine on that day. From about 1983-1995, when he engaged in frequent deer hunting, the man saw one or more wolverines every year.
In September 1990, a wolverine was seen several times over two weeks. The last time the man saw one was in 2006 near Rhinelander, Wisconsin. All sightings took place between 1983-2006 in the North Woods approximately between Rhinelander and Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin. The bear density in this region is said to be incredible, or at least it was 10 years ago (Bangs 2009).
In the early 1990’s, a wolverine ran in front of a man’s car in Marinette County, Wisconsin.
In 1998, Jeffrey Wiitala saw a wolverine in Taylor County, Wisconsin while trout fishing on the Big Rib River at a distance of about 25 feet. It paid no attention to him and leisurely lumbered off into the brush.
A wolverine was photographed on top of a woodpile in Green Lake County, Wisconsin in recent years. The disposition of the photo is unknown.
There are also recent sightings in the Black River Falls area and to the north in Wisconsin from 2000-2007.
A 2003 sighting in Lafayette County in the far south of the state was regarded as credible by the the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
In 2004-2005, a wolverine was spotted in Niagara, Wisconsin in the fall on opening day of deer hunting season.
In Winter 2006, Mary Ann Ludwikowski of Weyerhauser, Wisconsin. In addition, Mary Ann found a dead wolverine roadkilled in her driveway. She gave it away to a man.
In October 2007, Ludwikowski and Sheri Bodecker of Weyerhauser, Wisconsin about 2 miles west of Weyerhauser. It crossed Hwy 8 and proceeded to run northeast through a large field. The wolverine that crossed the road in front of us was on a full run, but it frequently turned to look at us. We watched it run through a 40 acre field for about two minutes.
In 2010, a roadkilled wolverine was found by the side of the road in Green Lake County, Wisconsin.
In November 2010, a father and son saw a wolverine while sitting in a deer stand north of Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin.
In March 2011, a wolverine was seen crossing Highway 53 between New Auburn and Bloomer, Wisconsin.
On July 29, 2011, a wolverine was seen crossing the highway on US 20 east of Sac City, Wisconsin.
On November 25, 2011, a deer hunter saw a wolverine run by his blind south of Gillette, Wisconsin.
In Fall 2011, a wolverine was seen twice in a one week period by two hunters in northern Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, one mile south of Brown County. Over the next year, a wolverine, suspected to be the same one as before, was seen in area.
On November 6, 2012, a wolverine was spotted by a man and his girlfriend hunting deer on their farm in Buffalo County, Wisconsin. They observed it for half a minute. A wolverine had been seen in the area 20 years before in the early 1990’s.
In July 2013, a wolverine killed a woman’s two cats at a home at in Wisconsin at Highway 53 and I-94 Highway 9 miles form Eau Claire and 6 miles form Osseo. A few days later, a neighbor came within three feet of a wolverine. Three weeks before, a nearby tavern owner said he had seen a wolverine on a county road. Around the time the woman’s cats vanished, neighbors in the vicinity started seeing their pets disappearing. Before the cats were killed, it had been eating the woman’s cat food for some time.
On August 28, 2013, a man saw a wolverine running away from a trash bin at a gas station in Elk Mound, Wisconsin.
On June 13, 2014, a wolverine was seen in a field only two miles north of Independence, Wisconsin.
There have been a few unverified sightings of wolverines in North Dakota recently.
In 1988, two wolverines were seen along the Little Missouri River in the Badlands of far Western North Dakota by a very experienced fur trapper.
In 1992, a man saw a wolverine in Central North Dakota while hunting sharp-tailed grouse. It was about 50 yards away.
In 2004, there was an unverified sighting of a wolverine near Minot. The observer watched it for a good five minutes.
On June 23, 2013, a wolverine was seen in the Turtle Mountains in far Northern North Dakota on the Manitoba border.
In February 2015, mailmen spotted a wolverine on their route near Rugby, North Dakota. That is 50 miles east of Minot and 60 miles south of the Manitoba border with Canada.
There have also been wolverine sightings in South Dakota in the past 60 years. There was a verifiable wolverine sighting in the south-central portion of the state in 1961 (Aubry et al 1967). From 1998-2016, an 18 year period, three wolverines were seen in Lake County, South Dakota. One was an adult and two were juveniles. The adult was severely mauled by people’s dogs.
On July 12, 2012, someone saw a wolverine near Nisland, South Dakota on the Belle Fourche River in Western South Dakota 25 miles from the Wyoming border. Their neighbor had seen a wolverine shortly before the sighting. People 10 miles northwest of Nisland said that they had seen a wolverine earlier.
Wolverines in Iowa
A female wolverine was shot dead by a farmer on May 21, 1960 in a cornfield in central Iowa (Haugen 1961). No one quite knew how she ended up in Central Iowa. She was infected with Trichinella spiralis, a parasite. (Zimmerman et al 1962). However, one report said that this wolverine had been transported into the state in 1960. There were reports around 1995-2000 of a “black animal” going from north to south through eastern Iowa killing dogs. It may have been a wolverine.
Five different people spotted a wolverine in Southwestern Iowa in 2008.
A wolverine was seen in Mid June 2010 near Canton, Iowa near the Maquoketa Caves.
In 2011, a bowhunter spotted a wolverine in Southeastern Iowa.
In July 2011, three people spotted a wolverine walking across County Road V68 1/4 to 1/2 mile north of Highway 3 in Fayette County, Iowa. It was headed in the direction of the Wapsipinicon River. This is 10 miles north of Fairbank, Iowa.
On July 31, 2011, a wolverine cub was seen on the deck of a house in the hills north of Sioux City, Iowa.
In mid-July 2102, a wolverine was photographed in Fonanelle in Adair Country in Southwestern Iowa; however, it is not known what happened to the photograph.
Wolverines in Nebraska
Incredibly enough, there have been a number of wolverine sightings in Nebraska in recent years.
It makes sense because wolverines are native to Nebraska, at least in the more mountainous parts to the north. In the Hall of Nebraska Wildlife in the University of Nebraska Natural History Museum, there is a mounted specimen of a wolverine that was shot on Scott’s Bluff, Nebraska in the 1880’s. That area is in far Western Nebraska on the North Platte River only 20 miles from the Wyoming border. This part of Nebraska borders on Southeastern Wyoming, which is known to have wolverine populations.
In particular, wolverines have been repeatedly sighted in and around Antelope and Knox Counties in far Northeastern Nebraska near the Missouri River and the South Dakota border. This area is near Louis and Clark Lake and the Santee Sioux Indian Reservation.
In this area, there have been many sightings along the Verdigre and Niobrara Rivers. For instance, in Summer 1998, a number of people spotted a wolverine near Verdigre, Nebraska. One was seen chasing a deer out of a draw in the middle of a hay meadow.
In April 2012, a fire and range ecologist spotted a wolverine running away after a cedar burn operation in a steep area near Scotia on the North Loup River. This is about in the dead center of Nebraska.
On October 29, 2014, a wet wolverine that seemed to have been swimming somewhere was seen in a pasture in Central Nebraska near Doniphan between Hastings and Grand Island. This is quite close to the Platte River where it may have been swimming. The area is between Lincoln and Platte, Nebraska.
There has also been one sighting north of Gordon in Northwestern Nebraska on the headwaters of Wounded Knee Creek near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. This area is east of the town of Whiteclay, Nebraska, now the scene of a famous fight over selling booze to Pine Ridge Indians.
Wolverines in Missouri
Incredibly enough, there have even been wolverine sightings very close to Missouri.
On October 28, 2011, a man spotted a wolverine emerging from a cornfield and crossing State Highway E just south of Highway 13. This is hilly farm country. This area is in Eastern Nebraska not far from the Missouri River and is close to the place where the borders of Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri all meet. There are a number of good sightings in both Nebraska and Iowa, so it is possible, though bizarre, that wolverines may exist in Western Missouri.
Grey Wolves in Massachusetts and Michigan!
The first grey wolf in 94 years was seen recently in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. It was a lone male. The UP, Minnesota and Wisconsin all have healthy populations. The Black Bear and wolf populations in Minnesota have shown dramatic increases in recent years, and there is now a healthy population of over 25 lynx in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for the first time in 30 years.
In other great news along similar lines, an Eastern grey wolf, the first in 160 years, was detected in Massachusetts. It killed over a dozen lambs before the farmer shot it to death. The killing was probably justified, but it is unfortunate that the first wolf in the state in over 150 years got shot to death. There will probably be more wolves coming to the state after this one, though.
- Aubry, K. B., McKelvey, K. S., and Copeland, J. P. 2007. “Distribution and Broadscale Habitat Relations of the Wolverine in the Contiguous United States.” Journal of Wildlife Management 71, 7: 148-158.
- Bangs, Ray. 2009. Personal communication.
- Haugen, A. O. 1961. “Wolverine in Iowa.” Journal of Mammalogy 42: 546-547.
- Zimmermann, W. J.; Biester, H. E.; Schwarte, L. H.; and Hubbard, E. D. 1962. “Trichinella spiralis in Iowa Wildlife during the Years 1953 to 1961.” The Journal of Parasitology, 48:3:1, pp. 429-432.
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