Two new photos taken this week help prove that last month's sighting of a California wolverine in Tahoe National Forest wasn't just a prank from some coyote wearing a wolverine suit. Volunteers also located potential wolverine hair and scat samples, which will be sent to the Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station’s Genetic Laboratory to determine how genetically isolated or related this population might be to other wolverines in Washington, Idaho, and Montana.
Oregon State University graduate student Katie Moriarty, who photographed the first wolverine, helped coordinate a search over 150 square miles of territory that involved dogs, ground searches, hair snares, and overhead flights. Volunteers and professionals from the Forest Service and California Department of Fish and Game helped scour the area for evidence of the large, weasel-like predator/scavenger.
“It has been a wonderful experience working with such an enthusiastic and dedicated crew from many different agencies,” said Moriarty. “Work has been extremely demanding and without the assistance of these volunteers, it would have been nearly impossible to obtain new evidence. Finding the tracks, photographs, and scat has been tremendously gratifying.”
The Forest Service contends that while it's too early to truly know anything about how wide the wolverine's range extends in California or how it might affect Forest Service conservation, the discovery of a large mammal in a region previously thought to be devoid of them remains exciting.
“These confirmations of wolverine in the Tahoe region have prompted us to dust off previous survey plans for the entire Sierra Nevada that were not implemented because of the uncertainty in detecting the species,” said Eric Loft, chief of DFG's 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.”
One thing's for sure: Katie Moriarty has a pretty rad graduate thesis on her hands. I know I'd give her an A.
— Ted Alvarez