My site – 6,277 feet up

My site – 6,277 feet up

As I begin my Mosaics internship, I am realizing I have a lot to learn. My internship focuses on rare carnivores in Mount Rainier. The rare carnivores in the Park that I will be working with are the Cascade Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes cascadensis), Wolverine (Gulo gulo), and Fisher (Pekania Pennanti). However, this week I realized, I do not know very much at all about interpreting animal tracks and signs. It is time for me to study up on the tracks, traits, behavior, and SCATS of the rare carnivores in the Park!

This past week, I was tasked with searching for the habituated Cascade Red Fox that patrols a few high elevation parking lots in the Park. After searching via skis and car, I finally found her on the side of the road. She is known to the Park employees as Whitefoot (because her back left foot is fully white). She is a 9-year-old Cascade Red Fox that spends a lot of her time begging visitors for food. It is wild to me that such a rare, wild animal can be so habituated to humans. She was definitely giving me her best, ‘puppy dog eyes’. But do not worry, I did NOT give in.

A very important aspect that all of the rare carnivores mentioned above have in common are that they rely on the Park’s intact habitat for survival. While Fishers rely on mixed aged forests, Cascade Red Foxes rely on subalpine habitat, and wolverines require the alpine. The way I like to think of it, each of these carnivores rely on different elevational bands of the mountain (with some inter-mixing).

This is what spring on Mount Rainier looks like. Snowmelt is happening but there is a LOT of snow to be melted.

There are many aspects of Mount Rainier that provide great habitat for rare carnivores. Some habitat features of the Park are glaciers, sub-alpine meadows, and heterogenous conifer forests. In the winter, Mount Rainier is like its own micro tundra – covered in hundreds of inches of snow. It is not hard to imagine a Wolverine galloping through the expansive snowfields. Then spring brings warmth, causing snowmelt, and swelling of the rivers. And really, I cannot wait for the summer sun to expose tons of alpine lakes and meadows that shine with bright colors of native wildflowers.

Stay tuned for photos of all of these incredible habitats through the seasons and more wildlife features in the Park!

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