Mount Rainier National Park

Wildlife
Gorp.com
The quick moving marmot resides in sub-alpine areas of Mt. Rainier National Park

If you're coming to Mt. Rainier National Park for the wildlife, you probably won't have to look far to see a large diversity of plants and animals. Bear, elk, goats, and cougars tend to elude the average visitor, but squirrels, marmots, birds, and endless wildflowers are easier to spot.

The Forest

Mt. Rainier National Park is ringed by old-growth forests of western hemlock and Douglas fir. Some stands of trees are more than 1,000 years old, with individual trees of many sizes, standing dead trees, and many dead, downed logs in streams. Holes, broken branches, and upended tree trunks create important wildlife habitat.

Scattered through the old-growth forest are many smaller trees that grow well in the cool dense shade. Pacific silver fir, western red cedar, and western hemlock create a cool, multi-layered forest where the temperature remains moderate, even during the hottest days of summer. The forests of Mount Rainier provide homes for many animals and plants, including the northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus), the hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus), and the northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis).

Common Critters

Black-Tailed Deer follow the melting snows up toward Paradise in early summer as the shrubs develop buds and leaves, and huckleberries begin to ripen. In June and July new fawns appear. Their tan and white spotted fur helps them blend into their surroundings.

Coyotes are about the size and shape of a German shepherd dog, and have silvery-tan fur with a black tip on the tail. They normally eat small rodents, berries, fruits, and carrion. You may see them anywhere in the park.

Red Foxes are often seen at picnic areas around Longmire and Paradise. They may look gray or even black in color.

Douglas' Squirrels, also known as Chickarees, are quite common in the park. Their fur is dark reddish-black on the back with orange-brown patches on their sides. They feed on tree cones and are found throughout the forested sections of the park.

Elk resemble deer, but are much larger (800-1000 pounds). Their bodies are a rich brown color, their heads and necks are darker brown, and they have a light tan or white patch around the rump.

Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels are slightly larger than chipmunks and have stripes down their backs, but not on their faces (you can tell them apart this way). Although chipmunks and ground squirrels eat many of the same foods, they coexist because chipmunks climb into the lower branches of trees and shrubs to forage, while ground squirrels remain on the ground.

Larger Mammals

The smaller reptiles, birds, and mammals that inhabit the park make for great nature hikes and photos, but some of their larger relatives require humans to use a little more caution when on vacation. Bears and cougars reside in the park, and wolves may soon be returning either naturally or through recovery programs.

Bears

Although unlikely, you may encounter bears in several of the national parks in the Pacific Northwest. Black bears inhabit most natural areas, and the northern Cascade Range is home to a sparse population of Grizzly bears.

Bears are curious, intelligent, and potentially dangerous animals, but undue fear of bears can endanger both bears and people. Many bears are killed each year by people who are afraid of them. In most cases, if you give a bear the opportunity to do the right thing, it will.

First off, try to avoid startling a bear by clapping your hands or talking in areas where sight distance is limited. Simply being alert and not surprising any animals, including a mother bear and her cubs, will save you much undo stress. Bears are extremely protective of their offspring, so be particularly sensitive if you see evidence of little ones in the area.

Cougars

Most national parks in the wildlands of the Northwest—from Olympic to Lake Roosevelt, and from City of Rocks to Crater Lake—are inhabited by cougars, also known as mountain lions, pumas, and catamounts.

The largest cat in North America, cougars once ranged across the continent. Due to aggressive predator control programs and habitat loss, they are now scarce in much of their former range. Although few people ever see this elusive cat in the wild, sightings and encounters in the national parks have increased in recent years.

Cougars are solitary, nocturnal animals, eating everything from mice to elk, but deer are their preferred prey. If you encounter a cougar in the wild, stop immediately and pick up small children—do not run or crouch down. Maintain eye contact with the cat and back away slowly. Generally, cougars are unpredictable animals, so be prepared for anything. Report any cougar sightings to the park ranger as soon as possible.

Wolves

Most of Washington's wolves are believed to have been killed by the late 1800s following years of trapping and government bounties. Wolves were thought to be gone from the state by the 1930s, although unconfirmed evidence of transient wolves shows they may slowly be returning to the Northern Cascades. Today wolves in the United States (outside of Alaska) number around 2,500 and are protected as an endangered species by the Endangered Species Act. There are nationwide efforts to return the wolves to the wild.

Like people, wolves are at the top of the food chain. Both serve as population regulators for deer, elk, and other prey. Distinguishing them from a coyote or dog is difficult, especially when lighting is dim, the sighting is brief, or the animal is at a great distance. In general, an adult wolf is much larger than a coyote and won't bark like a dog.

Wolves in the wild are afraid of humans and generally avoid contact with them. No healthy wild wolf has ever been documented to have killed a person in North America.


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