Wolverines return to Mt. Rainier National Park after 100-year absence

Wolverine Family at Mount Rainier National Park. Credit: Cascades Carnivore Project/NPS

The rare, elusive wolverine has returned to Mount Rainier National Park after a 100-year absence, the National Park Service announced Thursday. 

Scientists say they have discovered a female wolverine and her two offspring - called kits - living in the park. 

“It’s really, really exciting,” said Mount Rainier National Park Superintendent Chip Jenkins. “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 extremely rare in the United States; less than 1,000 wolverines reside in the lower 48, researchers say. Even more extraordinary than their return to the national park was a sighting in May on a Pacific Coast beach

RELATED: Rare, reclusive mammal spotted on Washington coast

“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,” Dr. Jocelyn Akins of the Cascades Carnivore Project says. “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.” 

Researchers say they're optimistic that more wolverines will start returning to the park. Scientists have installed cameras to photograph and identify wolverines using their distinct chest blazes. 

But park visitors hoping to see a wild and aggressive mammal as portrayed on TV will be disappointed: if you're lucky enough to see one, it will likely run away. 

“Wolverines are solitary animals and despite their reputation for aggressiveness in popular media, they pose no risk to park visitors," said Dr. Tara Chestnut, a park ecologist.  

It is important for park visitors to learn how to recreate in the backcountry while minimizing disturbance to wolverines. Even low-impact recreation like backcountry skiing can disturb denning wolverines if visitors don’t have the tools to recognize wildlife signs. With support from Washington’s National Park Fund, the park developed a new carnivore tracking guide that visitors can download before recreating in their public lands. The guide will help backcountry recreationists develop an awareness of wolverines and be able to recognize their tracks. 

Park visitors can report any wildlife observations or photos of wolverine tracks to the Mount Rainier online wildlife observations database. Backcountry enthusiasts can also submit wolverine observations directly to Cascades Wolverine Project.

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