California’s Lone Wolverine Captured on Candid Camera

With only 300 of the big weasels remaining in the U.S., conservationists want to reintroduce the animals to the Golden State.

This image of California's only known wolverine was captured by a trail camera in Tahoe National Forest on Nov. 3, 2014. (Photo: California Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Jan 13, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

By nature, wolverines are solitary creatures. But one member of the species is taking solitude to a whole new level as the sole wolverine living in California.

All of that alone time doesn’t seem to bother the secretive animal, which is faring just fine, according to state wildlife officials.

A trail camera in the Tahoe National Forest captured images of the wolverine in November, showing the same male thought to have first been spotted in the state in 2008.

Wolverines, the largest land-dwelling member of the weasel family, once roamed California’s Sierra Nevada range, but indiscriminate poisoning and fur trapping in the early 1900s wiped the species off the state map. The 2008 sighting was the first since 1922, when a trapper killed one.

There are only 300 wolverines in the continental United States. A reintroduction of wolverines to states like Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico was denied by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in August 2014. (Photo: Getty Images)

California Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Chris Stermer said the wolverine spotted Nov. 3 was most likely the same one recorded in 2008, and genetic testing shows that it originated from a Rocky Mountains population in the Sawtooth Range in Idaho.

Whether or not the animal journeyed all that way (“He would have travelled 800 miles for reasons unknown,” Stermer said in an email) or was dropped off in California by someone remains a mystery.

Either way, Stermer said the wolverine is looking healthy, with a nice winter coat and ample weight.

“I think it's exciting,” Stermer said. “The survival of this wolverine for many years has brought up the topic of a reintroduction down the road.”

Conservationists at the Institute for Wildlife Studies have lobbied since 2005 to bring the elusive and clever carnivore back to California’s mountain ranges.

“Wolverines are an icon of wilderness,” David Garcelon, president of IWS, told The Sacramento Bee in 2011. “That’s something I’d like to bring back.”

United States Fish and Wildlife Service officials last August rejected a proposal to reintroduce wolverines to southern Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico. At the same time, they denied listing the wolverine as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

Today, about 300 wolverines survive in the continental United States.

FWS ruled that even with the effects of climate change on wolverine habitat, the animals weren’t likely to be in danger of extinction now or in the foreseeable future.

That decision prompted a lawsuit filed by eight wildlife conservation groups to overturn the ruling.

“This is bad for science and bad for the wolverine’s future,” Earthjustice attorney Adrienne Maxwell said in October. “Climate modeling is important to determine whether a species is threatened. If the Fish and Wildlife Service is just waiting to see if the habitat is reduced, it will likely be too late.”