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An 'unprecedented year' for wolverine sightings in Oregon continues

A wolverine walks away from a cage.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
ODFW officers release the wolverine after relocation

There was yet another wolverine encounter on the Oregon Coast late last week.

Wolverines are rare in Oregon, but in the spring of 2023 there were several sightings along the Columbia River, and this April and May, several sightings occurred along the central coast and in Eugene.

Beth Quillian with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said a wolverine was reported in Florence last Wednesday and Thursday, and that the ODFW confirmed a wolverine photo on Thursday. The next day, the young male was caught in a padded foot-hold trap on a beach in Coos County. The traps are meant to protect threatened western snowy plovers. Wildlife teams acted quickly to immobilize, test and release the wolverine.

“At this point, we don’t have quite enough information to confirm whether or not it is the same individual that was seen earlier this year," Quillian told KLCC. "But because we were able to take these samples, that is hopefully going to be very helpful.”

Quillian said the ODFW has hair samples from some earlier sightings. The agency also took measurements and photographs of this wolverine. Quillian said wolverines have unique black and white patterning on their chest called a blaze, which is useful in identifying individuals.

A tape measure is held up to a large animal paw
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
ODFW officers took measurements, including of the wolverine's paw.

The wolverine had no significant injuries from the trap or subsequent handling. Quillian said it was relocated to a more appropriate and safe location. As a federally threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, the ODFW will not share specifics about where the wolverine was captured or released.

Quillian said it's been an unprecedented year for wolverine sightings in Oregon. If you come across a wolverine, she said, go ahead and take photos or video if you can do so without disturbing the animal. She emphasized not to chase it on foot or with your car, to observe from a distance, and let the animal continue on its journey. Wolverines are listed as a threatened species in Oregon and no hunting or trapping of them is allowed.

Here's some background information provided by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife:

“Wolverines are thought to have been extirpated from Oregon by 1936, though reports were documented each decade from the 1960s to the 1990s, including locations in Linn, Harney, Wheeler, Deschutes and Grant counties. Most accounts reported are visual encounters that can be difficult to verify. However, a wolverine hit by a car on I-84 near Cascade Locks was surrendered to ODFW in 1990. A 2010-2012 monitoring project confirmed three individual wolverines in northeastern Oregon, an area with no prior documentation of wolverines.

In 2023 there were several sightings of a wolverine along the Columbia River, in Damascus and in other parts of NW Oregon. Before those sightings, the most recent observation of a wolverine in Oregon was in 2022 in Wallowa County. In April and May of 2024, wolverine sightings occurred in Nehalem, Tillamook, Newport, Florence, Eugene, and Canby.

The animal is likely dispersing to a new area where it can survive and hopefully reproduce. Wolverines can travel over 30 miles in a day. Wolverines select high‐elevation habitats (alpine areas with dense snowpack) but young wolverines often disperse long distances, including across valley bottoms. Dispersing animals may pass through habitat that is not suitable (where you wouldn't expect to find them) on their way to find high-quality habitat. Maintaining natural areas and connectivity for animals to move across the landscape is vital to wildlife conservation.”

©2024 KLCC

Karen Richards joined KLCC as a volunteer reporter in 2012, and became a freelance reporter at the station in 2015. In addition to news reporting, she’s contributed to several feature series for the station, earning multiple awards for her reporting.
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