One of Oregon’s three known wolverines got caught in a leg-hold trap set for bobcat in the Eagle Cap Wilderness on Dec. 24, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed today.

The trapper reported the incident to ODFW and pulled all of his traps in the area, and the wolverine was released unharmed. But the incident has raised concerns from wildlife advocates, who are worried about other traps harming the rare and threatened species.

Wolverines were only recently rediscovered in Oregon after years of searching. They’re listed as threatened under the state Endangered Species Act, but until last April none had been seen since 1992. In 1936, the species was thought to be extirpated as a result of hunting and trapping.

Following the accidental trapping on Christmas eve, Steve Pedry of Oregon Wild and Wally Sykes of Trap Free Oregon sent this letter to ODFW Director Roy Elicker. It asks Elicker to restrict wildlife trapping in the Eagle Cap Wilderness to prevent other traps from harming wolverines in the future:

“Had the wolverine been trapped using a conibear trap or neck snare it would almost certainly have died. If wildlife trapping is allowed to continue in an area known to be used by this critically threatened species, such a tragedy seems likely to occur. That would bring a tragic end to one of the most significant Oregon wildlife recovery stories in decades.

Given that your agency is tasked with protecting wildlife as well as regulating hunting and trapping, we are writing to inquire as to what your agencies plans are for ensuring wolverines in Northeast Oregon are not harmed by such activities

Additionally, we would strongly suggest that wildlife trapping – especially lethal trapping - be suspended in areas known to be frequented by wolverines and practices modified in the larger landscape where the animal is known to roam. Elimination of the practice from the Eagle Cap Wilderness and adjacent public lands would be a logical first step. We look forward to your response.” 

ODFW Conservation Communications Director Meg Kenagy said her agency hasn’t responded to the letter yet, and hasn’t had to take much protective action on behalf of wolverines because their existence wasn’t even certain until last spring.

She said wolverine researcher Audrey Magoun – who set up the trail cameras that discovered the species in the Eagle Cap Wilderness – helped release the trapped wolverine last month and recognized some of the markings on the trapped animal. Magoun took a DNA sample to find out for sure whether it is one of the wolverines photographed by the trail camera.

Kenagy also pointed me toward the state’s trapping rules, where I found a few clues as to how the accidental trapping of wolverines might be handled.

For example, coyote trappers are warned that it is illegal to harm or kill gray wolves as long as they are on the state Endangered Species List. ODFW’s trapping rule book provides the general location of known wolf packs and recommends hunters avoid them, it offers tips to avoid accidentally capturing wolves, and it instructs hunters to call the state immediately if a wolf gets caught in a trap.

It does not, however, forbid trapping in any specific areas to protect wolves from traps.