Wolverines photographed in the Teanaway

Wolverines photographed in the Teanaway

Conservation Northwest / May 14, 2015 / Wildlife Monitoring, Wolverine

Wolverines (gulo gulo) have been recolonizing Washington’s North Cascades in recent years. Locally extirpated in the early 1900’s, these elusive creatures have slowly spread south from Canada since the early 2000’s, buoyed by Endangered Species protections and abundant mountain habitat.

Today, it’s estimated that two to three dozen of these large mustelids (members of the weasel family) prowl the craggy mountains and deep forests from Mount Adams north to the Canadian border.

Wolverines travel long distances through extreme terrain as they navigate their large home ranges, making them notoriously difficult to study. However, they can be lured into specially designed remote camera traps, where photos of their unique chest “blazes” allow for individual animal identification. This important research helps scientists estimate the health and abundance of the wolverine population in the North Cascades.

Conservation Northwest’s Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project has been a valuable asset for researchers studying Washington’s wolverine comeback. Under the guidance of our conservation staff and agency advisers, our citizen scientists have documented wolverines at remote camera stations in the Chiwaukum and Icicle Creek areas west of Leavenworth, as well as at locations north of Stevens Pass.

Wolverines in the Central Cascades

This past January, biologists with the Central Cascades Wolverine Study, a partnership between the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the U.S. Forest Service, documented wolverines at the most southerly locations in the North Cascades yet; finding tracks and capturing remote camera photos in the upper Cle Elum River drainage just northeast of Snoqualmie Pass.

And even more recently, the study captured some fantastic images of wolverines in the upper Teanaway Valley, including what’s likely a new male not previously documented by ongoing wolverine studies in the region. This male, along with a female known as “Beatie”, visited the remote camera monitoring station in early March and again in early May.

Check out these latest photos below, provided courtesy of WSDOT, WDFW and the U.S. Forest Service and the Central Cascades Wolverine Study.

3.4.2015 1

3.4.2015 2

3.4.2015 3

3.6.2015 1

5.4.2015 1

5.4.2015 2

Return of a Northwest native

With wolverines expanding southward in the Cascades and new I-90 wildlife undercrossings now in place, there’s hope that the population will soon reach the rich mountain habitat south of Snoqualmie Pass, including Mount Rainier National Park and the surrounding wilderness areas.

A lone wolverine was documented in the Goat Rocks Wilderness north of Mount Adams in 2012, but no other wolverines have since been confirmed south of I-90. A functional breeding population is not thought to exist in Washington’s South Cascades, yet.

Wolverines have also been confirmed in recent years in the Selkirk Mountains of the Colville National Forest in northeast Washington, and in the Wallowa Mountains of northeast Oregon. Though it remains unknown if either area contains a functional breeding population today.

Recovery still at risk

Wolverines are as tough as any animal in our region, able to withstand brutal cold and rugged terrain. But they are also dependent on a deep spring snowpack to dig their dens and provide their favorite food: winter killed carrion. This makes them particularly vulnerable to global warming and warm, dry winters like the one we just had here in the Northwest.

Unfortunately, even with less than 300 wolverines in the continental U.S., and a direct threat from climate change, in August 2014 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service overruled advice from its own biologists and abandoned proposed Endangered Species Act protections for wolverines.

That’s why Conservation Northwest recently joined an Intent to Sue letter along with Earthjustice and a coalition of eight other concerned organizations to ensure the agency follows well-established science and gives wolverines protections vital to their species’ survival in the Lower 48.

We’re excited to see these animals recovering in our region, and we’re standing strong for the protections they need. Learn more about Northwest wolverine recovery on our webpage or in the excellent video from the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission below.

Wolverines of the North Cascades (2014) from Skagit EEC on Vimeo.