Alpine Mesocarnivore Study

A red fox walking between snow-covered boulders
A Sierra Nevada red fox in March 2023. CDFW remote camera photo.

Program Overview

In winter, the Sierra Nevada may look like a barren, inhospitable moonscape. Yet a surprisingly diverse assemblage of carnivore species can be found in this alpine zone during the harshest months of the year. In 2015, we began an ongoing study to better understand the distribution of these species. Each winter we deploy 20-30 remote cameras at high elevations (> 10,000 ft) of the Sierra Nevada south of Yosemite National Park. We design our surveys to detect mesocarnivores (small- or medium-sized carnivores) such as coyotes (Canis latrans), martens (Martes caurina), long-tailed weasels (Mustela frenata), short-tailed weasels (Mustela erminea), bobcats(opens in new tab) (Lynx rufus), and badgers(opens in new tab) (Taxidea taxus). Of particular interest are detections of rare, threatened, or endangered species like Sierra Nevada red foxes(opens in new tab) (Vulpes vulpes necator) and wolverines (Gulo gulo luscus). When remote cameras photograph target species, we follow up with ground surveys to collect fecal material for genetic identification. We use these data to model the distribution and density of carnivores in high-elevation habitats. In many of our project locations, our study represents the first systematic effort to survey for wildlife in winter, and some of the species we have detected were not previously known to use alpine habitat at any time of year. The information we are gathering provides valuable insight to managers planning for the conservation of these species and their habitat.

Key Findings as of August 2023

Recent News

large, brown weasel-like creature sniffs at a rock
A fisher photographed at almost 11,000 ft in December 2018. CDFW remote camera photo.

Project Area Maps

nighttime photo of small animal with striped tail curled over its back
A ringtail photographed at 12,500 ft in October 2020. CDFW remote camera nighttime photo.

A red fox with dark pelage and a white-tipped tailra

A Sierra Nevada red fox in July 2023.
CDFW remote camera photo.


CDFW Inland Deserts Region (Region 6)
Main Office: 3602 Inland Empire Blvd, Suite C-220, Ontario, CA 91764 | Field Offices
Email the Inland Deserts Region | (909) 484-0167 | Fax: (909) 941-7364