Wildlife biologist weighs in on Oregon’s unusual number of wolverine sightings this spring

Kaly Adkins is the wildlife conservation biologist for ODFW in the East Region. She joins us to discuss the unusually high number of wolverine sightings this spring.

The subsequent transcript was generated by a computer and revised by a volunteer.

She is the one who confirmed the sighting of Sister’s Wolverines and now joins us to talk about all of them. Kaly Adkins is the Wildlife Conservation Biologist for the East Region of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Adkins Kaly is also with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Adkins Kaly is with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in the Clackamas County area of Portland, where there have been multiple sightings. It has not been spotted in Oregon, outside of the Wallowas, for more than three decades. I’m Dave Miller from OPB’s Think Out Loud studio, and joining me is Gert Boyle.

Kaly Adkins: Thank you for hosting me today.

Wolverines are actually part of the weasel family, but they are related to wolves, which is why their name sounds like it. Wolverines look like slender, little bears. I want to start with the basics, Miller.

It can be challenging to describe the size of a medium dog, as they are typically described as a small kind of bear. However, they are more closely related to weasels than wolves or bears. If you hit the nail on the head with that one, yeah, Adkins!

Miller [Interjecting]: Because a canine can be anything.

Adkins: Precisely. Precisely.

Miller: But…So they weigh around 30 or 40 pounds?

Assist them in navigating through extremely compacted snow. This snow is equivalent in size to their bodies. They possess large feet in proportion to their body size, as well as large, fluffy tails. They resemble small bears, although they are comparable in size to a medium-sized dog. Females typically weigh between 15 and 25 pounds. Males, on the other hand, weigh approximately 25 to 40 pounds. Indeed, Adkins.

Miller: Snow accumulation, which provides us with a hint regarding my following inquiry, where do they prefer to live?

It’s really hard to find travel and food during these times of the year, so young individuals have to dig little caches like refrigerators to store and feed themselves. In spring, females are driven to create dens for their kits or young ones, which require dense snowpack. That’s why they exist in high alpine areas, above the tree line, where the habitat is pretty rugged and preferred by Adkins.

Miller: How were wolverine populations in Oregon in the previous years?

Honestly, before 2011, it was really difficult to definitively determine the presence of a wolverine in Oregon because we could only rely on individual accounts reported to the state, and a lot of those sightings could not be confirmed even with the videos and camera phones that made it possible for us to be able to verify and know if it was indeed a different species of wolverine or just a spotted one.

He is believed to be at least 13 years old. Since the spring of 2022, there have been annual documented sightings of a male resident wolverine. There have been three instances captured on camera at a base station set up by the Wallowas Wolverine Project in the Blue Mountains since 2011. There was a report of a wolverine being struck on the Cascade Locks highway in the early nineties, and another report in the Cascade Mountains. There have been occurrences of wolverine sightings in the Cascade Mountains since the 1960s. However, there were no documented sightings before 2011.

What happened when you were able to verify another sighting? After going through your mind, the Sisters in Clackamas County were then spotted in three different parts. Then, near the Columbia River in the Portland area, a wolverine was seen this spring by Miller.

Biologists have been working diligently for three decades to document the presence of wolverines in the Cascades, a task that hasn’t been extensively documented in over the years. This exciting endeavor has involved various scientific groups, agencies, and biologists, including Adkins.

We need to go and check it out quickly. It’s extremely important in this type of weather where the snow is muddy and melting. We can quickly verify sightings and make sure that we are able to work with biologists by taking excellent videos or photos and reporting them. This shows how additional information from the ground can really help us. It’s great to see the continued momentum and public interest in all the sightings that have come in.

What is the probability that we are referring to a single person in these five distinct scenarios? I mean, it may not be of the same caliber as David Attenborough’s work, but you can clearly observe that these are genuine wolverines. Miller: I must emphasize that these videos were not at all unclear.

However, biologists have often been proven incorrect when they are simply guessing about this matter. Based on the trajectory and timing, it implies that it might be a single entity. Therefore, we cannot be certain if it is indeed one or possibly more. As you mentioned, the videos are of high quality, but they lack the necessary details to identify an individual. None of these sightings have provided us with a photograph of the chest. Occasionally, it is possible to determine if it is a distinct individual through genetic analysis if a sample can be obtained. On some occasions, the unique patterns on the chest and throat can indicate an individual’s identity. Nevertheless, we do not possess conclusive evidence from these observations. Using common sense, one could assume that it is likely a single entity due to the absence of sightings in the past 30 years. Adkins: Therefore, it remains extremely difficult to ascertain.

Is it probable to discover a partner in locations where wolverines haven’t been observed for decades, assuming this is a male wolverine? And I can’t help but ponder about OR-7 and his renowned journey all around searching for a companion. Therefore, we only have approximately two minutes remaining, Miller.

If there has been a population breeding in Washington’s Cascades where individuals or the same individual have come from the down way, it is possible to make its way down as well, hopefully. We said that we don’t know if these sightings have been of the same individual or individuals, so it is unlikely that there hasn’t been a female that has been detected. It is also unlikely that wolverines haven’t been seen for decades.

Miller [Interrupting]: …Crossing the Bridge of the Gods?

Adkins: They can also traverse bodies of water…

Thank you so much for joining us, Kaly Adkins. Alright, and you don’t even have to pay a fee. Oh! Much, much more convenient, Miller.