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.
A backcountry ranger for Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park said that he was 99
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.
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.
In stunning news, researchers at Oregon State University snapped a photo of a possible California Wolverine (Gulo gulo luteus) north of Lake Tahoe between Truckee and Sierraville in the Tahoe National Forest. This is the first proven detection of a wolverine in California in 86 years – the last one was shot dead in 1922.
According to new data, the wolverine in the photo at the top of the page is from the Rocky Mountains and is not a California wolverine. Reginald Barrett, dean of furbearer studies in the West, told me in an in a recent interview that he felt that this wolverine had come down from Idaho through the Great Basin into California.
Nevertheless, in my opinion, California wolverines never left this state.
The actual location was on Sagehen Road in the Sagehen Creek area at the Sagehen Creek Field Station. This station is in the Sagehen Creek Experimental Forest. The field station itself, where the photo was taken, is at 6,375 feet.
California wolverines seem to exist more at lower elevations as one travels north in California. Towards the south in the Sierra Nevada, they are found more at 8,000-9,000 feet if sightings are any guide. It is 8.4 miles north of Truckee and 20 miles north of Lake Tahoe. Sagehen Basin itself ranges from 5,900 to 8,700 feet.
Despite much theory stating that wolverines hate any human presence, the area where the photo was taken is only 1.5 miles away from a major highway, Highway 89.
An excellent brochure about the Sagehen Creek area, listing hydrology, geology, geography, botany and biology, including insects, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, is here. Katie Moriarty, the graduate student who took the photos, was probably staying at the field station, which has excellent lodging facilities for researchers and has served as the study area for more than 80 theses and dissertations.
The area is in the central Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California.
What they mean by confirmed sighting is that it has to be backed up by a photo or a specimen. They say fur or scat also counts, but apparently that is not true, as California wolverines were confirmed via fur samples from Del Norte Siskiyou and Shasta Counties by the California Department of Fish and Game in the late 1980’s.
I know that a wildlife biologist saw one above Bishop, California in 1980, and I understand that there have been a number of other sightings by biologists. There have been quite regular sightings of these very elusive animals in California down through the years.
Live wolverines have also been trapped in far Northern Washington state in the Cascades near the Canadian border in the past couple of years.
The natural range of the California wolverine extends in California only and has been separated from wolverines in the Washington Cascades for at least 2,000 years, according to genetic studies. As a subspecies, it is controversial and is not yet accepted across the board by the scientific community.
The first description of a California wolverine was published in the Field Colombian Museum of Zoology Zoological Series in 1903 (rare online copy here). You can see in the description of the type specimen from Mount Whitney that the California wolverine was much paler than the wolverine normally found in the rest of North America.
The California wolverine is a subspecies of wolverine that split off from other branches about 2,000-11,000 years ago. The California wolverine formerly ranged into the Cascades of California and even over towards the Coast in the Northern Coast Range all the way down to San Fransisco.
It then ranged down the Sierra Nevada Mountains all the way down to the southern end of the range at the Southern Sierra Wilderness, where they were last sighted in the 1950’s. Monache Meadows is usually given as the southern end of the range, but the Southern Sierra Wilderness is south of there.
Based on sightings, it was felt that the California wolverine had declined to a very low level near extinction in the early 1930’s and then the population had been increasing slowly ever since. William Zielinski is an expert on wolverines who participated in this study.
Thomas Kucera, a researcher at San Fransisco State University, undertook a wolverine survey in the state in the early 1990’s with bait stations and cameras.
They saw quite a few animals, including many martens, a few fishers, coyotes, bears, bobcats, and mountain lions, but they found no wolverines in the exhaustive survey. The guarded conclusion then was that California wolverines were extinct in the state. I did a web search on the California Wolverine recently and most experts were saying that the the general conclusion was that they were gone from the state.
Wolverines in the Sierra Nevada
I never thought this animal went extinct in the state because I was aware of regular sightings, mostly around the Sierra National Forest, which is near where I lived for 16 years.
There has been an undated sighting of a wolverine four miles west of the Snow Canyon Research Natural Area on the Amador Ranger District of the El Dorado National Forest. This area is near Highway 88 about three miles south of Carson Pass, and part of it is in the Mokelumne Wilderness.
There have also been undated wolverine sightings in the Pacific Valley area north of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, an area that connects the Carson-Iceberg with the Mokelumne Wilderness on the El Dorado National Forest. Pacific Valley (map) is being considered as an addition to the Carson-Iceberg. The date of these sightings is not known.
There have been sightings at Green Island Lakes, a National Forest Service Research Station at 6,100 feet in the Lassen National Forest in Plumas County.
Wolverines have also been sighted around Eagle Lake on the Lassen National Forest.
There have been two sightings on the Collins-Almanor Forest, a large commercial forest northwest of Lake Almanor. This area is where the Northern Sierra Nevada meets the Southern Cascades.
There was also an unverified sighting of a California wolverine four miles west of Truckee on Highway 80. It had scavenged road kill from this busy interstate highway and was dragging it down into the rocks to eat it. I traveled over Donner Pass in Summer 1979. It’s quite a beautiful area.
In 1978, there was an unverified sighting of a wolverine near Disaster Peak (10,047 feet) in the Sonora Pass area in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. I went through the Sonora Pass area in 1987.
Hilton Creek Lakes in the John Muir Wilderness, elevation 10,705 feet. This area is near Stanford Peak. Access is out of the Rock Creek Trailhead on the East Side of the Sierras. A wolverine was seen here in 1979.
In 1980, a wildlife biologist saw a wolverine in the Robinson Flat area of the Foresthill Ranger District on the Tahoe National Forest.
In 1984, the district ranger of the Sierraville Ranger District, near where this photo was taken, saw a California wolverine running down a road in the middle of the day.
Around 1990, tracks were sighted near Courtright Reservoir at 8,200 feet near Kings Canyon National Park in the southern Sierra National Forest. A local Forest Service biologist had seen the tracks.
Around 1990, a wolverine was spotted on the back side of Lembert Dome in Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park the middle of winter.
North of Yosemite on the Stanislaus National Forest, there was a wolverine sighting in the Emigrant Wilderness in 1990.
There are wolverine sightings near South Lake Tahoe. In 1990, a wolverine was sighted two miles from where Highways 50 and 89 meet in South Lake Tahoe and the southern end of the lake (map). This area is close to Emerald Bay, DL Bliss, and Sugar Pine Point State Parks. I have been to all of these parks on the shore of Lake Tahoe, but that was 45 years ago. It’s a beautiful place.
A wolverine was sighted in 1991 in the Euer Valley on the Truckee Ranger District in Tahoe National Forest.
A wolverine was seen in 1992 in the Harding Point area on the Tahoe National Forest northeast of Sierraville, and this sighting was confirmed by tracks.
In 1992, as wildlife biologist saw a wolverine in the Granite Chief Wilderness Area on the Tahoe National Forest.
In 1992 and 1993, a Biology teacher at the local high school in Oakhurst, Gary Spence, saw them two years in a row at Spotted Lakes (9,100 feet) in the far southeast corner of Yosemite National Park near the National Forest border. Spence is a good biologist and he used to go out on field surveys with the local Forest Service biologist.
Also on the Downieville District of the Tahoe National Forest, a wolverine was seen in 1993 in the Gold Lake Road and Salmon Lakes Road area.
In 1993, a wildlife biologist on the Lassen National Forest sighted a wolverine in a den near the headwaters of Deer Creek at 5,000 feet (note that even sightings by wildlife biologists are said to be unconfirmed). This area is near Child’s Meadow and is next to the southern border of Lassen National Park.
Lassen National Park’s draft management plan proposes to reintroduce wolverines to the park.
Those who keep saying that California wolverines no longer exist ought to note that all sightings are regarded as unconfirmed, even those by wildlife biologists.
Tracks are also regarded as unconfirmed sightings. This area was in private hands and was recently purchased by the Nature Conservancy. Incredibly, the private landowner wanted to put a golf course in here!
There was also a sighting in 1994 in Kaiser Pass near Huntington Lake at about 9,200 feet in the Sierra National Forest. The local Forest Service biologist said she believed the man who saw it.
The area to the west of Lake Tahoe continues to get sightings. A sighting was reported from Island Lake in the Desolation Wilderness Area just southwest of Lake Tahoe in 1994.
Another sighting was from the north shore of Loon Lake Reservoir near Lake Tahoe on the El Dorado National Forest on July 7, 1994. This is a few miles to the west of the Desolation Wilderness.
Another was seen in Lyell Canyon at 8,900 feet in eastern Yosemite in 1997.
Also in 1997, there was an unverified sighting of a wolverine off Highway 120 just after it passes Tioga Pass to the east, looking down into Lee Vining Canyon. The wolverine was sighted running away about 1,000 feet down below.
In 1998, a wolverine was seen once again on the Downieville District on the Tahoe National Forest near Bassett’s Station.
The very wild area north of Lake Tahoe, especially the Granite Chief Wilderness, was considered to be one of the most likely places for the California Wolverine to be found due to the very high number of sightings in the area. In 2000, there was an excellent sighting of tracks in this area.
In 2001, a biologist spotted a wolverine somewhere on the Stanislaus National Forest, but the location was not given.
Donner Pass is where the famous Donner Party tried to cross into California in the winter of 1846-47, became trapped, turned cannibal, and ate half of their own party due to starvation. There was an unverified sighting of a California wolverine here in 2004 dragging roadkill off the highway to eat it. There have also been sightings north of Tahoe National Forest.
In 2004, there was a reported sighting north of Polly Dome Lakes at 8,500 feet near Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park.
In 2004, apparent wolverine tracks were photographed on the trail up to Possible wolverine tracks photographed in July 2004 at Gabbot Pass on the Sierra Crest west of Bishop by Australians David Noble and Lizzy Went. There have been consistent sightings in the area west of Bishop and east of Courtright Reservoir and just north of Kings Canyon National Park over a 28-year period now.
In 2005, a wolverine was spotted in Tuolumne Meadows, again in winter. The observer had taken zoology courses at UCLA for seven years.
Forest Service employees have made quite a few wolverine sightings in both the northern Tahoe National Forest and in the southern Plumas National Forest in recent years.
In addition, in the Duncan Canyon Proposed Wilderness Area on the Plumas National Forest, there have been two wolverine sightings in recent years. This area is near French Meadows Reservoir.
Also on the Tahoe, in 2006, a wildlife biologist saw a California wolverine at the San Fransisco State University’s San Fransisco State University’s Sierra Nevada Field Station, 32 miles northwest of the Sagehen Creek photo site. There was an unverified sighting of a California wolverine here by a wildlife biologist in 2006.
In September 2010, a wolverine was seen on the Pacific Crest Trail near Red Cones, which is near Devil’s Postpile and Mammoth Mountain.
Wolverines on the North Coast and in the California Cascades
On the North Coast and in the California Cascades, there have been wolverine sightings in Del Norte and Trinity Counties east through Siskiyou and Shasta Counties.
There were a number of sightings in this area from 1960 to 1974. For instance, there was a The very deep forest on the road between Hyampom and Hayfork in Trinity County. A wolverine was spotted here in 1974.