Fall 2010


California’s Lone Wolverine

Photo Courtesy of Chris Stermer, California Dept. of Fish and Game Photo Courtesy of Chris Stermer, California Dept. of Fish and Game

FOR THE FIRST TIME in nearly 90 years, there has been a confirmed wolverine sighting in California – and an HSU alum made the discovery.

In Feb. 2008, Katie Moriarty (‘04, Wildlife) captured images of the animal on research cameras in the Tahoe National Forest. She was using baited, motion-sensing cameras to track the effects of landscape change on martens when the wolverine appeared.

There had been no confirmed wolverine sightings in California since the last one was killed in the 1920s. Many believed the animal was extirpated, or locally extinct, since then.

After the sighting, Moriarty led a team of researchers to track the wolverine and collect hair and scat samples for genetic testing. Although it was speculated that this wolverine was a descendent of the California wolverine, DNA results proved otherwise.

“The unique thing about California wolverines is they’re more closely related to those in Mongolia,” Moriarty says. “You would distinctly be able to tell a California native from any other group.”

Instead, researchers believe this wolverine is from Idaho, likely the Sawtooth range of the Rocky Mountains. That means the animal would have traveled over 500 miles to reach its current location near Truckee, Calif.

“Five hundred miles is not out of the realm of possibilities for the animal to travel,” says Chris Stermer, Senior Wildlife Biologist for the Department of Fish and Game’s Non-Game Wildlife Project.

In addition to walking the entire distance, the animal may have also wandered onto a truck or been released in the area. “It’s anyone’s guess,” says Stermer, who pursued his master’s in Wildlife Management at Humboldt State in the 1990s.

Ironically, this wolverine traveled such a distance that he is likely the only wolverine in the state. “Obviously, he’s probably not going to find a mate very easily,” Moriarty says.

Researchers are continuing to expand their survey areas to determine whether or not this animal is in fact California’s lone wolverine.