Depending on how you feel about wild animals, you may or may not want to visit California anytime soon. California’s only wolverine appeared in the northern Sierra Nevada seven years after being confirmed as the first one in the state since 1922, researchers said.
Since the solitary predator was first observed in March 2008, more than two dozen documented sightings have occurred 15 miles northwest of Truckee, said Chris Stermer, a biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The wolverine in question is said to have been exposed in November 2014 by a motion-sensing camera in the Tahoe National Forest near Fordyce Lake, which is around 15 miles southwest of where it was initially seen.
According to Stermer, the male appears healthy with dense fur and ample weight, and has sectioned off a 300-square-mile swath of the Sierra between Interstate 80 and Highway 49 as its territory.
“I think it’s exciting,” Stermer said. “It gives us some hope of bringing back some apex predators like that. It would be exciting to have wolverines back in the Sierra.”
Though the carnivore’s DNA has been linked to others in Idaho’s Sawtooth Range, biologists are still unsure whether it wandered down to California or was released into the Sierra by someone, The Huffington Post reports.
“Based on our history it’s most likely going to be the same individual, but our hope is it’s not,” Stermer said. “Our hope is we have a pair here so they can mate … We’re hoping that one animal turns into a population.”
He added that the odds are favorable, as some wolverines are prone to venture south to California from Idaho and the Cascades.
Once abundant across the Sierra and Rocky Mountains, wolverines were wiped out in most parts of the United States by the 1930s due to unregulated trapping and poisoning campaigns.
Today, the members of the weasel family have recovered in parts of the West, where 250 to 300 of the animals live, residing primarily in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Washington. Larger populations inhabit Alaska and Canada.
California has the habitat to support higher wolverine numbers, Stermer said, and his organization has discussed the possibility of bringing them back to the state.
“They avoid residential areas and livestock. There’s not a lot of controversy with having wolverines around,” he said. “How many pairs can the habitat support? That’s the question.”