Photo courtesy Cascades Carnivore Project/NPS: This image shows the wolverine family seen at Mount Rainier National Park.
Photo courtesy Cascades Carnivore Project/NPS: This image shows the wolverine family seen at Mount Rainier National Park.

Scientists have discovered the first reproductive female wolverine and her two kits in Mount Rainier National Park in over 100 years, according to a press release.

Photos of the wolverine family can be found on Mount Rainier’s Flickr album. 

It’s really, really exciting,” Mount Rainier National Park Superintendent Chip Jenkins said in the press release. “It tells us something about the condition of the park — that when we have such large-ranging carnivores present on the landscape that we’re doing a good job of managing our wilderness.”

Wolverines are rare in the United States. According to the press release, in North America, population estimates range from 6.2 wolverines per 600 square miles in high-quality habitat to 0.3 per 600 square miles in low-quality habitat. Scientists estimate there are only 300 to 1,000 wolverines in the lower 48 United States.

The discovery of the wolverine family at Mount Rainier National Park is possible because of the scientists and volunteers led by Dr. Jocelyn Akins of the Cascades Carnivore Project, according to the press release.

“Many species that live at high elevation in the Pacific Northwest, such as the wolverine, are of particular conservation concern due to their unique evolutionary histories and their sensitivity to climate change,” Akins said in the release. “They serve as indicators of future changes that will eventually affect more tolerant species and, as such, make good models for conservation in a changing world.”

With confirmed sightings in the adjacent area and suitable wilderness habitat in Mount Rainier National Park, scientists believed wolverines may start returning the park, according to the press release. In 2018, scientists installed camera stations designed to photograph and identify individual wolverines based on their distinct chest blazes. This pattern of fur on a wolverine’s chest allows them to be identified individually, according to the press release. A wolverine recently detected was identified as a nursing female.

Dr. Tara Chestnut, a park ecologist, said in the press release that visitors to the park can help monitor the wolverines and contribute to studying their return to the ecosystem.

“Wolverines are solitary animals and despite their reputation for aggressiveness in popular media, they pose no risk to park visitors,” Chestnut said in the release. “If you are lucky enough to see one in the wild, it will likely flee as soon as it notices you.”

Park visitors are asked to learn how to not disturb the wolverines while recreating because even low-impact recreation like backcountry skiing can disturb denning wolverines, according to the press release. Visitors can download a new carnivore tracking guide before recreating, which will help them become aware of the wolverines and recognize their tracks.

As well, park visitors can report any wildlife observations or photos of wolverine tracks to the Mount Rainier online wildlife observations database. People can also submit wolverine observations directly to Cascades Wolverine Project.

“Reporting wildlife observations is very helpful to national park and other public land managers, and if someone is lucky enough to get a photo of a wolverine or their tracks, we really want to know about it,” Chestnut said in the release.

People can learn more about how they can participate in community-based science projects to monitor carnivores, including wolverines, with Cascades Carnivore Project and their partners at https://www.cascadescarnivore.org/. Cascades Wolverine Project is an organization sponsored by Conservation Northwest to document wolverines and support wolverine recovery in the Washington Cascades, according to the press release.

For more information on Mount Rainier National Park, please visit the park’s webpage, www.nps.gov/mora/index.htm; Twitter (@MountRainierNPS) feed or Facebook site.