BISHOP, Calif. (AP) — A wolverine was spotted three times last month in the eastern Sierra Nevada, a rare occurrence for an animal that has only been seen once in California in the past 100 years, state wildlife officials said.
While wolverines are native to California, they have been virtually extirpated from the state since the 1920s – likely the result of fur hunting and trapping in the decades following the gold rush, although wolverines records from the time do not indicate exactly what caused the population. to decrease.
A wolverine was spotted in the state from 2008 to 2018, beginning in the Tahoe National Forest, officials said. Last month’s wolverine is probably different because the animal’s lifespan is usually 12 to 13 years.
The last wolverine appears to be a young male looking for a mate. The animal has been spotted twice in Inyo National Forest and once in Yosemite National Park.
“It’s really exciting and surprising,” said Daniel Gammons, senior environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Male wolverines range across huge territories — easily several hundred square miles — and this winter’s heavy snowfall in the West may have created “habitat bridges” for the wolverine, Gammons said. The animal could have traveled from the Rocky and Cascade mountain ranges, or as far away as Canada or Alaska.
Wildlife officials are trying to obtain a specimen of the wolverine’s hair or feces for genetic testing. The species – the largest terrestrial member of the weasel family – is listed as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act.