Video of wolverine kits at den on William O Douglas Wilderness

Deep in the William O Douglas Wilderness, east of Mt Rainier National Park, our wolverine mama, Pepper is raising two young kits.


Wolverine kits documented in the South Cascades for the first time in many decades.

Deep in the William O Douglas Wilderness, east of Mt Rainier National Park, our wolverine mama, Pepper is raising two young kits. See Seattle Times article.
Pepper and her 2 kits outside the den

On May 16th, our field crew returned from a 3-day snow camping trip into this remote, mountainous habitat with exciting news. Scott, Kayla, and I retrieved photos and video of Pepper and her kits from the den. This is the first reproductive wolverine den documented in Washington’s southern Cascade Range (Cascades south of Interstate 90) and the 3rd den in the state in over 50 years. 

Pepper's mate, an unknown male, at the den entrance

One of Pepper's kits, likely 3 months old today

In North America, wolverine kits are typically born in mid to late February so these kits are likely 2.5 to 3 months old today. 

Pepper displaying her unique chest blaze at a monitoring station

An unknown male, likely Pepper's mate, displaying his unique chest blaze

Previously, Scott and Kayla, our determined field crew, had gone above and beyond the call of duty to set a wildlife monitoring station far out in the wilderness. The station is designed specifically to identify individual wolverines from photographs based on their unique chest blaze and determine the wolverine’s sex, and possibly, its reproductive status. Here, they detected both the female wolverine nicknamed Pepper and an unknown male, which we assume is her mate. 

Scott and Kayla arriving at the den to check the cameras

The crew first discovered the den after wolverine experts examined photographs from the monitoring station, and determined that Pepper was lactating and thus raising young nearby. They followed wolverine tracks to the den after extensive searching. 

Scott looking for prey remains at a melted out snow cache - a "wolverine refrigerator"

They also followed tracks to several snow holes, where the wolverines had cached prey items deep in tree wells that act like refrigerators. These snow holes, where wolverines can keep food from rotting, are thought to be one of the reasons why wolverines rely upon snow for their survival.

Fresh wolverine track at our camp

During the last night of the trip - the 4th visit for Scott and Kayla - we were woken to a sniffing sound close to our tents. The next morning, we discovered fresh wolverine tracks in the snow under my socks that I had hung to dry on a branch, 4-ft from my tent. 

Wildy, the first wolverine documented south of I-90 in modern times

Our goal is to document the natural recolonization of wolverines into southern Washington and improve our understanding of how climate change threatens this rare and elusive carnivore.


First wolverine mama in southern Washington in many decades.

Pepper's unique chest blaze. 

In collaboration with the United States Forest Service (Naches Ranger District), we have documented a reproductive female wolverine, south of Interstate Highway 90 (I-90) in Washington's Cascade Range for the first time in a long time. We nicknamed her Pepper and she is also the first female wolverine documented south of I-90 in many decades. We first detected Pepper in 2016 at 2 wildlife monitoring stations on the Naches Ranger District. We collected hair samples from her in 2017  at another station as part of the Western Wolverine Conservation Project. Her DNA was genotyped to give her a unique ID, F37. This April, she was photographed at one of our runpole monitoring stations. From photographs, we confirmed with wolverine experts that she is lactating and therefore has kits (as long as they remain alive).

Pepper’s belly showing enlarged teats, evidence of lactation.

Our field crew followed Pepper's snow tracks along with a larger set of tracks, presumably of a male, and we detected a male wolverine at the same station as Pepper was detected as well as at a second station in the vicinity. 

Unknown male at another wildlife monitoring station.

Wolverines are slowly gaining ground in Washington after having been extirpated from the state in the 1950s due to excessive human-caused mortalities associated with predator control programs; however, their distribution had been largely confined to the North Cascades Ecosystem (NCE), north of I-90. As some of you may remember, the Yakama Nation made the first detection of a wolverine south of I-90, on the east slopes of Mt Adams in 2006. This was the impetus for founding the Cascades Carnivore Project. Now, this most recent evidence of a lactating female is the first indication that wolverines might be re-establishing themselves in the southern Washington Cascades. And while this is good news for wolverines and for wolverine conservation, there is evidence that their abundance throughout the contiguous United States is very low. In addition, they face new threats from by climate change and increased recreation.

Wolverines! Not only one individual in Washington's southern Cascades anymore.

It has been a busy winter. Scott and Kayla, our main field crew, have done an incredible job getting out to the remotest parts of our southern Washington study area (Mt Adams to Mt Rainier) into the heart of wolverine habitat.
We have begun using runpole stations as our newest survey tool. These are wildlife monitoring stations designed specifically to photographically identify individual wolverines based on their unique chest blaze and determine their gender, and possibly reproductive status. They also collect hair samples for DNA analyses. They were designed by wolverine researcher, Dr. Audrey Magoun, who knows more about wolverines than almost anyone else and has creatively designed these stations. The stations are set 10+ feet up a tree so they stay above the snowpack as winter progresses. Additionally, we have added features to ensure the detect Cascade red foxes. They also work well for detecting other rare carnivores such as fishers and Pacific martens. These stations require a bit more up front effort, especially while we got the hang of things, but they have the potential to provide valuable information that would otherwise require live-trapping individuals. Our goal is to determine whether wolverines are reproducing south of Interstate Highway 90 (I90) in the Washington Cascade Range. 
 Scott setting up the hair snagging device on the runpole.

Wolverine country.

First wolverine detected at a runpole station by our study.


North Cascades Project

We started camera and trail surveys in the North Cascades Ecosystem in September. Here is a little video of our first bobcat in the area. While hiking in to check the camera, I encountered bobcat tracks as well as moose!! So huge!! There are no moose in Washington's South Cascades where we have conducted most of our research so that was pretty neat. I also encountered coyote tracks on top of my tracks on the way out. First snows of the season make for great track opportunities.
Hiking up into the Sawtooth-Lake Chelan Wilderness.
A far bit of snow up above 6000 ft.
Bobcat tracks on the trail.

Note to self: If I drive all the way from my parent's home in Vancouver, BC over the Cascade Crest and try to accomplish something in the field, I will be hiking out of the wilderness after dark.


Special Recognition Award from the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies

Slogging through 3 feet of fresh powder. Just another day at the office.

This past winter, I was part of Washington's field team for the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) wolverine survey. The Western States Wolverine Conservation Project was developed by the WAFWA Wildlife Chiefs' Wolverine Sub-Committee as part of "a statistically defensible multi-state monitoring plan for states where wolverine populations exist (WY, MT, ID, WA)".

At the recent annual meeting of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Assistant Director, Eric Gardner accepted a special recognition award for the Wolverine Project’s Washington Team.

In accepting the award, he stated: "In Washington, we did things a little different than they did in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.  We did not hire crews to conduct the project’s wolverine survey because we are fortunate to have a group of highly skilled and very experienced biologists from a number of different organizations that were already heavily invested in wolverine conservation and surveys, and who were interested in helping on the project’s wolverine survey.  Given the skills, dedication, resourcefulness and incredible toughness of these biologists, working together on the project was clearly the best strategy for success.  Accordingly, this award recognizes their hard work, their boundless interest and energy, and their dedication to wolverine conservation.  They are: Scott Fitkin, Jeff Heinlen, Jeff Lewis, Paul Debruyn, Fenner Yarborough, David Volsen, and Hannah Anderson from WDFW;  John Rohrer, Aja Woodrow, Don Youkey, Matt Marsh, Sonny Paz, Phyllis Reed, and Jesse Plumage from the Okanogan-Wenatchee and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forests; Robert Long from Woodland Park Zoo; Jocelyn Akins from the Cascade Carnivore Project; Roger Christophersen from North Cascades National Park, and Drew and Cathy Gaylord from Conservation Northwest.  When you run into these folks, don’t hesitate to ask them about the project; because they have some amazing stories to tell."    

It was a total pleasure albeit a grueling winter battle to be apart of this field work. Myself and field partners, Erin Burke, Scott Shively, and Kayla Dreher deployed and ran 5 camera stations at disparate locations in super remote areas of southern Washington's Cascades. The project ran from late November 2016 through April 2017 through huge winter snows and super cold temperatures. Highlights included getting home at 3am on New Years Day, broke-down snowmobiles, wolverines, mountain foxes, and tons of incredible mountain views.

Getting the snowmobiles endlessly stuck. 


Cascade Mountain School Fox Hunt

On July 25, 2017, we headed up Stagman Ridge Trail to Horseshoe Meadow on Mt Adams to meet with a group of 14-17 year old students from Cascade Mountain School. We had a bug-attacked talk about ecosystems, ecological niches, Cascade red foxes, and the fisher re-introduction. There were ALOT of mosquitoes and black flies but also incredible vistas of the snow-bedecked mountain and lush, expansive subalpine meadow full of bright red and pink Paintbrush wildflowers. The students went into the meadow and surrounding ridges to set remote cameras in the hopes of detecting Cascade red foxes into the late summer and fall. I was joined on my hike by my friend, Victoire from Normandy. The trail meanders through the 2012 Cascade Creek Fire, which converted dense, shady mid-elevation Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock forests into bright, hot tinder and dead trees, now replete with the most vibrant and diverse wildflowers.

Cascade Mountain School students divided into 3 groups.

Group #1: Courtney, Owen, and Luca chose a spot for their remote camera based mostly on the Cascade red fox's attraction to water, and also because the fox will be in full camera range. They set the scent lure on an out-reaching branch across from the camera so the fox would be in full exposure to be caught on camera. It was also a slightly secluded area so there were less animals that may be attracted to the scent, that way other animals would be less likely to trigger the camera.

Group #2: Max, Quinn, and Shiah ventured out with scat collecting bags, a camera trap, and some scent to attract the fox. They found a game trail located on the saddle west of Horseshoe Meadow. The area was lightly treed and also near the edge of the meadow. They placed their remote camera in a tree near where they thought the fox might travel. Then on a tree across from the camera, they placed the scent to lure the foxes in.

Group #3: Clark, Jayvahn, and Oliver placed their camera in a place with many animal tracks near the creek. They believed that the site will have a lot of foot traffic and will eventually draw a fox because of abundant prey and easy access to water.


Large carnivores.

Being a mesocarnivore ecologist (someone who studies mid-sized carnivores), I am constantly stunned by how majestic and beautiful large carnivores are. We collected these photos of a mountain lion in December at the beginning of our winter field season. They are the only shots we received of a mountain lion from our mountain carnivore project. Mountain lions are just so… plain wild! I've also added a couple of my favorite photos of large carnivores from the archives.


Visits from the Cascade red fox color morphs this winter

While red foxes come in a variety of coat colors, or phases, there are three typical colors phases. The coat of a red fox does not change color with the seasons but rather stays the same throughout its year and lifetime. The cross-phase Cascade red fox, is distinguished by a dark band running down its spine and across its shoulders, forming a cross. 

The black-phase Cascade red fox, also known as a silver fox, is grizzly black and white. This individual was photographed in the Crystal Mountain area.

The better known red-phase Cascade Red Fox 

A night comparison of cross-phase and red-phase Cascade red foxes