Wolverines Extinct in Sequoia – Kings Canyon?

Separate posts on this blog deal extensively with wolverines in Oregon, Washington , Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah, Nevada, New Mexico and the Upper Midwest. There are also five posts on the wolverine in California .
A new study using baited trap stations, done during winter, failed to find any California wolverines in either Sequoia or Kings Canyon National Parks in the southern Sierra Nevada. However, in 1980, definite wolverine tracks were seen at two locales in Kings Canyon National Park by trained wildlife biologists. However, tracks always count as “unverified”. But not to me.
I say that at least 28 years ago, wolverines were present in Kings Canyon National Park. Wolverine sightings in California in the past tended to be concentrated in Kings Canyon and Sequoia Parks. This area was long held to be the last stronghold of the wolverine in California. Many detailed sightings were made from 1900-1930 in Sequoia National Park. In one, a wolverine chased two adult bears away from a horse carcass.

A map of historical wolverine sightings in Kings Canyon – Sequoia Parks. As you can see, sightings were much more common from 1920-1955 or so and have dropped off quite a bit ever since. Click to view.

The survey utilized many trap stations set in winter for a couple of months. It was designed to test for wolverines persisting at very low densities.

A map of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks showing the locations of the bait stations used in this survey. It also includes sightings since 1980. In the past 28 years, there have been nine wolverine sightings. That is about one sighting every three years, not a very good record.
I am also aware of tracks spotted at Courtright Reservoir in 1990.
Courtright is located at the far west end of of rectangle 5a on the map, outside far northern Kings Canyon in the Sierra National Forest. These tracks were verified by Sierra National Forest wildlife biologists. I conclude therefore that wolverines were present near northern Kings Canyon at least 18 years ago.
I am also aware of another sighting out of Bishop, California on the Sierra crest in 1980. This sighting was by a wildlife biologist. The location of this sighting was just off this map to the north of the station labeled EV, north of Kings Canyon National Park. So from 18-28 years ago, wolverines were present in and around Kings Canyon. Whether the have been extirpated since 1990 is yet an open question in my mind. Click to view.

It failed to find any wolverines, and the researchers concluded that the California wolverine is likely extirpated from the Southern Sierra Nevada. Many other recent studies have also failed to find any wolverines.
However, this winter, a wolverine was photographed north of Lake Tahoe by researchers studying pine martens. DNA analysis has subsequently shown that this animal is from the Rocky Mountains and is not a California wolverine. It is not known how this male wolverine got to the northern Sierra Nevada, since the nearest population is in the Snake River Valley in Idaho far to the north.
There are other sightings in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks since 1995. A possible wolverine was heard near the Lodgepole area in Sequoia in 1995. It growled a frightening growl at a passerby from a small hole in some rocks that seemed too small to hold a bear.
On April 19, 2010, a woman reported to park authorities that she saw a wolverine crossing a road in Kings Canyon National Park. She picked a wolverine out of a sequence that also included photos of bear, fox, weasel and beaver as the animal that she saw.
The researchers advocate that wolverines be reintroduced to the Sierras, since they seem to be absent from most of the range.
I believe that California wolverines may continue to persist at very low levels in the Sierras.

Historical wolverine sightings in Yosemite National Park. Once again, sightings were much more common from 1920-1955 or so. But there were still quite a few sightings in the 1990’s. However, I am aware of some recent sightings in Yosemite in the 2000’s that were not included in this map. I believe that the wolverine may continue to persist at low levels in Yosemite. Click to view.

In August 2006, there was an unverified sighting of a California wolverine in the Soda Creek drainage northeast of Rainbow Mountain in the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park.

The Soda Creek Drainage in Mineral King, where there was an unverified sighting of a wolverine on the northeast slope of Rainbow Mountain in August 2006. This is at the confluence of Soda Creek, Lost Canyon Creek and Big Arroyo Creek in the Kern River Watershed. I have been to Mineral King once backpacking in 1973. It’s a pretty amazing place. If you can handle difficult hiking, it is worth the trip.
This part of the Sierra Nevada is a lot drier than the northern part of the Sierra where the wolverine photo was taken recently. According to a topo map I just found, the part of the Soda Creek drainage on the northeast slope of Mt. Rainbow would be very high, at about 10,826 feet. This shows that wolverines may well range above 10,000 feet in the Southern Sierras.
Fishing is banned here to preserve a population of endangered Little Kern Golden Trout. There are also endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep in the area. I have seen these sheep in the mountains just outside Los Angeles. A once in a lifetime experience!

In addition, a webpage states that wolverines continue to exist in Mineral King. A backcountry ranger for Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park said that he was 99% sure that there had been good wolverine sightings in Yosemite and Sequoia/Kings Canyon NP’s as recently as 2003, despite these negative findings.
There have also been sightings on the Sequoia National Forest adjacent to these two national parks and the Sequoia National Monument. According to the study, the last sighting was in 1988. Wolverines have been sighted as far south as Monache Meadows in the Dome Land Wilderness on the Sequoia NF, but the last sighting was in the 1950’s.
However, I recently received a report of a wolverine sighting on the South Sierra Wilderness in Cow Canyon at the 8511 foot level. The sighting occurred in the summer of 2008 on July 19 at 2 PM. The wolverine was sighted on the east side of Cow Canyon about 20 feet from the canyon bottom. This is only 1 1/2 miles east of Monache Meadows at the far southern end of their traditional range. The sighting was by an older man who grew up in national parks and knows wildlife very well. A spreadsheet of the sighting location is here.
The suggestion to reintroduce wolverines to the Sierra is probably the correct one.
The California wolverine as a proven subspecies is still controversial, and it seems to persist at either very low numbers in California or is extirpated altogether. California wolverines continue to exist in Oregon and Washington.

References

Graber D.M. 1996. Status of Terrestrial Vertebrates. SNEP Science Team and Special Consultants. Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project Report 25:709-734.Graber, D.M. 2006. Disturbing Yosemite. California 117:4.Hudgens, Brian R., Garcelon, David K. 2008. Winter Carnivore Survey Finds that Wolverines (Gulo gulo) are Likely Extirpated from Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks. Arcata: Institute for Wildlife Studies.
Sequoia National Forest. 2003. Giant Sequoia National Monument Management Plan Final Environmental Impact Statement. United States Forest Service, USDA.
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16 thoughts on “Wolverines Extinct in Sequoia – Kings Canyon?”

  1. There are still wolverines in the Southern Sierra. A mated pair has been observed a couple of seasons near Beasore Meadow area (above Bass Lake) on the Sierra National Forest. I am a professional forester with about 50 years experience in the Southern Sierra. I observed one wolverine near Shaver Lake in 1961. The F&G warden at Shaver told me that two were shot near Huntington Lake that season.

    1. I live & work in Kings Canyon NP yesterday we had a lady who was driving and spotted one crossing the road. still alive. kinda scary considering the agressiveness of this animal. it’d be nice if the NPS tagged it.

      1. I don’t know the year it was in Beasore. I was just googleing wolverine in Kings Canyon / sequoia and found your blog. I to trust her judgment we showed her a pic of a Bear, Fox Wiesel, Beaver, then a Wolverine and she said “yes!, that’s it.” so I’m kind of hoping it doesn’t stick around. don’t feel like being it’s dinner. 😉

        1. Showing her pictures of a fisher and a pine marten would have been a good idea as well…we saw what I think was a fisher chasing a squirrel around a giant sequoia a couple of times and then catching it, while at Sierra NP, and also saw a large and long-haired brown mammal that size walking along the edge of the parking lot at the hotel in the park just after dawn; that was probably a fisher as well but looked pretty much like a wolverine to me, as an amateur.

  2. her description was a animal smaller than a bear, brown back and black tail, about the size of a fox but different stature, snout and face.

  3. I’m pretty sure I heard one in a small den under a rock alongside a trail very near civilization in the Lodgepole area of Sequoia NP about 15 years ago. The hole from which the low, scary growl emanated seemed too small to hold a bear, but I didn’t stick around to positively identify anything.

  4. I saw a pair last Sunday morning. They were by Discovery Bay. I was driving home at about 4 am and they were crossing the road. I asked the two ladies I was with if they saw what I saw. They did but couldn’t identify what animal it was. When we got home I pulled up the picture on the computer. All three of us agreed those were the animals we saw. I know nobody is going to believe me but I got a real good look. They crossed the road only 20 feet away. I sent an email to fish and game but they haven’t responded yet. I am debating calling the local authorities to see if there have been more reports.

  5. Our family was camping at Dorst campground in Sequoia in 1964 (I believe). I spotted a wolverine about 20 yards from Dorst Creek. It was sitting on a large granite boulder and we stared at each other for several minutes and then went our separate ways. We had found wolverine tracks a few days before.

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