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.
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.
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.
The researchers advocate that wolverines be reintroduced to the Sierras, since they seem to be absent from most of the range.
However, in 2009, 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.
I believe that California wolverines may continue to persist at very low levels in the Sierras.
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.
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.
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.
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 they have been extirpated since 1990 is yet an open question in my mind.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I recently received a report of a wolverine sighting on the South Sierra Wilderness in Cow Canyon at the 8,511 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.
A webpage states that wolverines continue to exist in Mineral King.
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 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 extinct.
- 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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