For the first time in recorded history, biologists have confirmed that tracks found in the Wallowa Mountains of northeast Oregon are those of a North American wolverine.
Researcher Audrey Magoun found the wolverine tracks in the snow on April 17 while hiking to a remote camera site set up to detect wolverines. She followed the tracks for about a mile until they left the river bottom headed into the high country.
“From the size of the track, it is probably a male,” said Magoun who has dedicated her career to studying wolverine since she received her Ph.D. in 1978.
“This is the first confirmation of a wolverine in Wallowa County,” said Vic Coggins, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife district wildlife biologist. “We’ve always thought it was good habitat, and we’ve had reports but nothing we could verify until now.”
Magoun also believed the habitat conditions were right, which was why she and research assistant, pilot and husband, Pat Valkenburg, undertook this winter’s survey in the Eagle Cap Wilderness.
“There is a breeding population in the Payette Forest in Idaho and a breeding population in the North Cascades in Washington,” she said. “In fact, we couldn’t believe wolverine wouldn’t be here. They travel large distances.”
As part of the survey, 14 baited field camera sites were set up and several aerial flights made. None of the cameras have yet yielded a photo of a wolverine, but 80 percent of the cameras had photos of American marten and a few native red fox were detected. Biologists believe these animals are probably the native foxes that were once common in the Wallowa Mountains.
Coggins is interested in the data on marten and red fox in the higher elevations. “It’s great to know what species are using these areas -- it’s indicative of the health of the habitat and helps with management decisions,” he said.
According to Magoun, the next question is: Is this a lone wolverine or is the area occupied? She hopes to be back next winter field season to try and answer that question.
Funding and logistical support for the survey comes from an Oregon Conservation Strategy Implementation Grant(federal State Wildlife Grant), The Wolverine Foundation, Inc., the Wildlife Conservation Society and private individuals including Magoun and Valkenburg, Alaska residents, who use their own plane for aerial surveys.