Citizen scientists contribute to wolverine research in the Cascades

Citizen scientists contribute to wolverine research in the Cascades

Conservation Northwest / Sep 04, 2018 / North Cascades, Wildlife Monitoring, Wolverine

Multiple wolverines were documented this year by the Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project and the Cascades Wolverine Project, adding to knowledge about the animal’s return to Washington.

By: Laurel Baum, Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project Coordinator

About a hundred volunteers are involved in wildlife monitoring and citizen science every year through Conservation Northwest’s Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project (CWMP). Over the course of the spring and summer, a few lucky volunteer teams have documented multiple wolverine in the North and Central Cascades, adding to our local knowledge of this iconic species in these areas!

Our non-invasive survey methods attract and photograph animals using a scent lure, drawing on their natural instincts to seek out smelly things as a potential food source. While visiting the site a wire brush can collect hair samples from the animal rubbing on it. Valid samples add information to a database researchers have for better understanding our regional wolverine population size and dispersal.

A male wolverine, identifiable to researchers by the distinct chest blaze, photographed at a Central Cascades monitoring station, run by the Gaylords and the Rodenhizers. Photo: CWMP / CNW

As the project coordinator, I wanted to find out from the volunteers themselves how detecting these rare carnivores at their camera stations and engaging with the CWMP had changed their way of viewing conservation efforts in the Pacific Northwest.

Christine Phelan, a member on a North Cascades team that detected two different individual wolverines this year replied: “My involvement in the CWMP has given me a deeper sense of connection and ownership with conservation efforts in Washington state. In doing so, I have essentially become a stakeholder in the process and that drives me to find more ways to contribute, discover, and engage. It makes me feel invested in the work and the wildlife communities with which I share my home.”

Debbie Rodenhizer, a long-term volunteer with the project added: “As a CWMP volunteer, I have finally been able to exercise my inner biologist. I have always loved wilderness and wildlife. [Now], I get to do something I have always wanted to do, as well as help with conservation efforts!”

Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project volunteers Christine Phelan and Kristian Boose in the North Cascades on a regular wolverine camera check. Photo: Phelan Boose

Cathy and Drew Gaylord described their experience of visiting their research site in the Central Cascades. “Finding a target species like a wolverine on the camera is a huge rush. Many times we have had hard days on the trail, bad weather, equipment failures and have discussed giving up the work but when you finally find a wolverine on your camera none of that matters.”

Phelan was at our camera site in the North Cascades during a similar visit. “It’s unreal and incredibly exciting, to see a wolverine (or two different individuals) on your photos. Since wolverines are so widely dispersed and occur at such low densities in Washington, it sometimes feels like they are a ghost story rather than an actual animal. It was a thrill to know I had shared that same place in the mountains with them.”

Two wolverines documented at a North Cascades camera station, note the white marking on the left front paw on one individual and all black marking on the other. Photo CWMP / CNW

I wanted to know our volunteers’ take on our efforts as citizen scientists who on occasion get the opportunity to collaborate with state biologists and researchers who are studying these animals.

Phelan weighed in: “Working with Conservation Northwest has introduced me to a passionate and dedicated community of volunteers and researchers that never ceases to reward my curiosity in the natural world. These cross-organizational efforts have allowed me to contribute to projects that are greater than the sum of their parts. That I get to engage with these people in meaningful work that is then consumed by a wide range of stakeholders is immensely rewarding.”

As well as the Gaylords: “One of the aspects of this volunteer work that has kept us going through many years has been the relationships we have developed with state, federal and CNW biologists. So many of them have been generous with their knowledge, time and helping us with equipment and questions. You really get to feel like you are part of a wider team.”

Along with these teams volunteering through our Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project, Conservation Northwest has also partnered with the Cascades Wolverine Project, led by David Moskowitz and Steph Williams. Their efforts spanned six months of monitoring, setting seven different wolverine camera stations throughout the thick of winter and detected wolverines 11 times, contributing to larger statewide efforts, research and knowledge about wolverines in the Cascades.

Check out one video from their project below!

We are proud to support efforts like these, and want to sincerely thank all of our volunteers who have contributed countless hours to this project. The efforts our volunteers contribute to installing and maintaining numerous camera sets, as well as keeping our data up to our high standards is directly transferable to increased value and knowledge of wolverines and other rare species as we partner with different agencies across Washington and southern British Columbia.

We’ll be putting out a full report on this year’s remote camera season later this fall. Past reports are also available online. Want to support this citizen science effort? Please consider a donation!


Now in its eleventh year, the Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project functions as a partnership with project partners and state, federal, tribal and independent biologists to improve knowledge about wildlife presence and distribution that is vital to informing recovery planning and policy. Learn more on this web page: