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ODFW officials confirm central Oregon coast has a very unusual spring break visitor — a wandering wolverine

A wolverine is standing on a concrete walkway outside a residence.
Sharon Williams
Distributed by ODFW
A wolverine was first photographed by a house in Nehalem on March 18, then Netarts the next day, Cascade Head last Wednesday and then in Newport on Thursday.

This story was originally published on YachatsNews.com and is used with permission. 

The rarest of spring break visitor – a first so far as wildlife officials know – is making its way south along the central Oregon coast.

There have been multiple confirmed sightings of what is believed to be a single wolverine – first spotted in Nehalem on March 18, then Netarts the next day, Cascade Head last Wednesday and then in Newport on Thursday.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife investigated and confirmed the sightings through citizen-supplied photographs and footprints and announced the sightings Monday.

A landowner in north Newport snapped a photo Thursday as they watched the wolverine cross their field, said ODFW district wildlife biologist Jason Kirchner.

“And that’s one of the things we posted on social media,” Kirchner said. “And then we went out there and found some tracks and there was some hair in the tracks so we grabbed those just in case. It’s probably dog or deer or elk, but we grabbed them just in case. Fish and Wildlife is always looking for DNA samples so we thought we’d give it a shot, you never know.”

Wildlife officials cannot confirm it is the same wolverine seen in all four places but believe it is based on the reports which indicate it is progressively moving south.

“It’s just a rare animal and this is not its habitat type,” Kirchner told YachatsNews on Monday. “And they can cover 30 miles a day easy. They are just amazing. They can cover a lot of ground. They are a solitary animal that is always on the move. It seemed to be hugging the coastline coming down, so kind of amazing.”

A wolverine sighting this far south is “extremely rare,” Kirchner said. Oregon is at the southern end of their range these days. They are widely distributed in Canada and Alaska and have smaller populations in Washington’s northern Cascade Mountains as well as in the high mountains of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Wolverines were thought to have been extirpated from Oregon by 1936, although reports of sightings were documented each decade from the 1960s to the 1990s, including locations in Linn, Harney, Wheeler, Deschutes and Grant counties, according to ODFW. Most accounts are visual encounters that can be difficult to verify. In 2010-2012 monitoring project confirmed three individual wolverines in northeastern Oregon’s Wallowa County, an area with no prior documentation of the animal.

ODFW placed 20 bait stations in Wallowa County in 2021-22, said Kirchner, and the most recent sighting of one in that area was in 2022.

“There’s a male there that has a mark on him and so they can tell it’s him every time they get him on camera or video,” Kirchner said. “He was seen in 2011 and then again in 2022.”

Dispersing animals regularly travel through diverse landscapes while looking for a new home, but it does not mean a wolverine population will “set up shop anytime soon,” ODFW said in a Facebook post about the coastal sightings.

The agency partners with other organizations to try connecting habitat so animals like the wolverine have a better chance of surviving dispersal or migrations. The coast range is a possible migration/habitat corridor so these elusive animals can disperse and find suitable mountain habitats.

“We don’t have a population here,” Kirchner said. “We just have some that pass through. They can cover ground and they are just dispersing and looking for areas. And that is what’s going on here because the coast is not suitable habitat for them.”

“It’s just looking around, looking for more mountains and places to live. Where it grew up there were probably too many. They are kind of a solitary animal, low numbers, low reproduction. It’s a pretty rare kind of wilderness animal.”

Last year in Portland area

It is unknown whether this is the same wolverine spotted in Canby in February, ODFW said in its Facebook post. There was alsoa sighting in March 2023 by fishermen on the Columbia River.

“And it kind of moved through the east Portland area for a while,” Kirchner said. “And then a year later we’re getting one popping up moving around here.”

An adult wolverine can weigh 55 pounds and while their lifespan in the wild is believed to be 5-13 years, they have been known to live in captivity for at least 15. Their diet is much like a bear, Kirchner said.

“They can eat just about anything,” he said. “Small mammals, carcasses – things that are dead, they are very diverse. They will eat meat, larvae, eggs, berries — just very diverse.”

It is uncertain where the coastal visitor will wander next, but officials believe it is likely still headed south. They have no plans to trap it but if it is sighted hanging out in an area, they will try to get hair samples so they can test its DNA to find out where it originated from.

“If anyone sees it let us know because we always want to know where it’s going, where it’s at, what it’s doing,” Kirchner said. “But just leave it alone and let it do its thing. They typically don’t cause any problems. As long as people leave them alone, they keep to themselves.”

Having this wolverine visit the coast is “very exciting,” Kirchner said.

“It’s awesome. It’s really cool — probably once in a lifetime to have one pass through. It is very rare.”

Wolverines are listed as a threatened species in Oregon and no hunting or trapping of them is allowed. If you see a wolverine, ODFW asks that you contact them immediately. Its Newport field office can be reached at 541-867-4741.

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