By Melissa Wynn
Wolverines are a little studied cousin of the badger. It was long believed that there was no population of these illusive creatures in the Sierra Nevada , with no confirmed sightings since the 1920’s. Quite by mistake, wildlife biology graduate student Katie Moriarty from the Oregon State University photographed one of these rare carnivores, with a remote controlled camera, in the Tahoe National Forest on February 28, 2008. Confirmed populations of wolverines are known to be in the Northern Cascades in Washington and also in the Northern Rockies of Montana and Idaho. Before the photograph was taken the closest population was thought to be 900 miles away in north-central Washington. Scientists are now searching the Tahoe National forest more carefully to try and figure out if there is indeed a strong population there ,or if this was just a rogue wolverine out on adventure. There efforts included setting barbed wire snags to collect hair samples and dogs trained to detect wolverine scat, both which can be submitted for DNA testing to determine from which population this specimen originated. Eventually approximately 50 samples were gathered and sent to the Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Stations Genetic Laboratory. Results from these tests will tell scientists not only where this animal originates from but also its gender. This sighting has sparked new curiosity about the presence of wolverines throughout the Sierra. “These confirmations of wolverine in the Tahoe region have prompted us to dust off previous survey plans for the entire Sierra Nevada that were never implemented because of the uncertainty of detecting the species,” said Eric Loft, chief of the Dept. Of Fish and Game wildlife branch. “ The news has already generated numerous, previously unreported sightings of wolverine from the public that should be followed up and may help guide planning for additional surveys.”
Ann Westling of the Tahoe National Forest advises that if you see a wolverine, or think you do, DO NOT APPROACH IT!! This carnivore is vicious and cantankerous and presents a real physical threat. They are also extremely sensitive to human contact and may abandon their current home range to avoid further contact. She also suggest that if possible, get a photograph, also document where you with as much detail as possible. Any sighting should be promptly reported to your local Forest Service office.
So I ask you, my fellow Sierra Nevada residents, have you ever seen a wolverine? I believe I saw one in Seneca Canyon near Canyon Dam, Ca in the early 1980’s while picnicking with my family. This of course doesn’t count as a confirmed sighting since I have no photo or DNA bearing evidence. I would like to believe that this majestic, largest member of the weasel family , still calls this part of the mountains home. If you have a photo or video or some confirmation of a sighting, please let us know by sending an email of your story and/or photo to [email protected]
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Quote and facts courtesy of the U.S Forest Service
Special Thanks to Ann Westling of the Tahoe National Forest