The rare sighting comes as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service assesses the North American wolverine for protection under the Endangered Species Act of 1973
A couple fishing outside Portland, Ore. on Monday was surprised when they spotted a rare wolverine, which is listed as a threatened species in the state.
The North American wolverine's (Gula gula luscus) appearance on the Columbia River was the first confirmed sighting of the animal outside its natural habitat of the Wallowa Mountains in more than 30 years, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) announced in a news release.
"Given the proximity to Portland, we were very surprised when this report came in and elated when we were able to verify the sighting," said Dave Keiter, ODFW district wildlife biologist, in a statement. "We really appreciate the people who reported this rare occurrence and Cascadia Wild, who helped us confirm the report and begin monitoring efforts."
Thanks to geotagged photos taken of the animal, staff from ODFW and the wolverine preservation nonprofit Cascadia Wild were able to visit the location and confirm the sighting after discovering a set of wolverine tracks.
Teri Lysak, a Cascadia Wild wolverine tracking coordinator, thanked the couple who "took the time to share it with us," adding: "Some of the best information on wildlife can come from regular people who are paying attention to what they see."
Researchers also collected two unidentified sets of droppings nearby that may be tested to determine where the wolverine came from through population genetics.
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Additionally, ODFW and Cascadia Wild have set up a non-invasive monitoring system with motion-detecting cameras and a hair-collecting device with a strong-smelling attractant.
It's unlikely that the wolverine is still in the area, as they have been known to travel 30 miles in a day, and the nearby habitat does not meet the species' needs.
Although more common in Canada and Alaska, smaller wolverine populations have been recorded in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Oregon, where they are more commonly found among higher elevations and snowpack.
Wolverines — which are a member of the weasel family but resemble a small bear — were thought to have been eradicated from Oregon by 1936, but several sightings were reported between the 1960s and '90s.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is reassessing its 2020 decision not to list the North American wolverine as a threatened or endangered species.
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