Second of its kind to be detected in California in past century

It’s truly remarkable that another native apex species is attempting to make its way back to our state on its own. As we’ve learned with gray wolves naturally repopulating northern California, if the conditions are right – including adequate suitable habitat and human tolerance – they will come and can thrive."

Pamela Flick, Defenders of Wildlife California program director
SACRAMENTO, CA

What is believed to be a single wolverine was caught on camera multiple times within several days in the eastern Sierra Nevada. Experts agree that this is indeed a wolverine, marking the second of its kind detected in California since the 1920s.  

The wolverine was sighted in Inyo and Mono counties as well as in Yosemite National Park several days apart in May. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife assessed three separate video and photo submissions and believes the recordings are of the same animal.  

“This is incredibly exciting news given the rarity of this species and this being only the second known wild wolverine in California in the past century,” said Pamela Flick, Defenders of Wildlife California program director. “It’s truly remarkable that another native apex species is attempting to make its way back to our state on its own. As we’ve learned with gray wolves naturally repopulating northern California, if the conditions are right – including adequate suitable habitat and human tolerance – they will come and can thrive.” 

In the early 1900s, hunting and trapping for the fur trade nearly wiped-out wolverines in the American West. Now only about 300 wolverines are scattered throughout the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rocky Mountains, including Idaho, Wyoming and Montana where trapping is still permitted.  

Every so often, lone dispersers make their way to California and Colorado on the hunt for a new home or mate. Wide-ranging, persistent snow cover this year may have been a key factor in why this animal made its way back to its historical range in California. 

“This winter’s extremely snowy conditions throughout the West likely made it possible for this individual to make an over-snow dispersal from a distant population,” continued Flick. “That provides some hope for a future with wolverines here, particularly in the Sierra Nevada, which means ‘snowy mountains.’ I can’t think of a better place for wolverines to call home than the Golden State.”

In 2008, a wolverine nicknamed “Buddy” was first detected by a graduate student at Sagehen Field Station north of Truckee and continued to show up on footage through 2018. It was later determined through DNA analysis that Buddy originated from the Sawtooth Range in Idaho. While little is known about the most recently detected wolverine, researchers hope to learn more about the animal, the impact its movement may have on the genetic diversity of wolverines and the potential for a future wolverine population in California.

Currently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether wolverines should be listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Service is expected to make the listing determination later this year. The wolverine is listed as “threatened” under the California Endangered Species Act and is a Fully Protected Species under California Fish and Game Code

Defenders of Wildlife is celebrating 75 years of protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

Media Contact

Communications Specialist
jcovey@defenders.org

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