After spending a summer engaged in a survey of Wells Gray’s wildlife, I left with a conviction that here is an outdoor laboratory par excellence. Within the park we now have populations of wolverine and fisher as dense as any on the North American continent. There is almost as great a variety and abundance of game and predatory animals as can be found in any other comparable area within the province. —P. W. Martin, 1950


ells Gray is home to 56 species of native mammals – a figure representing about a third of all land mammals known to occur in Canada. Such diversity reflects the many ecosystems encompassed by the park’s boundaries.

Black Bear
Black Bear
Black Bear track
Black Bear track
Wolf scat
Wolf scat
Coyote tracks
Coyote tracks

None of Wells Gray’s mammals ranges throughout the park. Whereas the Mountain Goat clings to rocky mountainsides, enduring snowstorms in mid July, the Grizzly Bear roams the upper forests and meadows, digging for Glacier Lily bulbs and Columbian Groundsquirrels.

The greatest variety doubtless occurs in the vicinity of the Ray Farm, where a conservative estimate might run as high as 35 species. Keep in mind, however, that most mammals are shy and retiring; you’ll be lucky if you observe more than ten of Wells Grays residents during your stay.

Possibly the most common and widespread mammal is the Deer Mouse, found from valley bottom to the low alpine tundra. Occurring sparsely throughout much the same range are the Ermine and the Long-tailed Weasel – two of the Mouse’s fiercest predators.

A few of the larger mammals also tend to have broad distributions, though they seldom occupy their total range at any one time. Here belong the Wolf, Coyote, Black Bear and Mule Deer, all of which occur, in summer, from valley bottom to treeline, and sometimes above. In autumn deepening snows force them to retreat to the southern lowlands.

Some mammals are at or near the edge of their range in Wells Gray. The northernmost records of the Wandering Shrew and the California Bat, for example, have come from Hemp Creek. By contrast, the Pygmy Shrew and the Least Weasel are very close to their southern limits in the same area.

Wells Gray’s fauna has changed dramatically over the past 50 or 60 years, largely in response to fire. Some species have prospered, while others have gone into relative decline. Especially momentous was the great fire of 1926, which blackened 520 square km of bottomland and, in so doing, temporarily introduced an open “parkland” element to the Clearwater Valley.

Under these more open conditions, shrubs and herbaceous plants began to dominate. To the animals that eat shrubs and herbs, this meant food in abundance. Mule Deer were plentiful in those early years (declining only during winters of heavy snowpack), and so were Moose and Snowshoe Hares. Columbian Groundsquirrels and Yellow Pine Chipmunks also thrived in the open burns, and later, as Trembling Aspen began to recolonize, the American Beaver prospered in the wet places.

Hunting these tasty morsels were healthy populations of Wolves, Mountain Lion, Coyote, and, among the small-time predators, the Ermine and the Fisher. Clearly the period from the 1930s to the early 1950s was one of prosperity for such as these.

Possibly it was during this period, too, that White-tailed Deer and American Badger first entered the valley. Both these species are here very close to the northern edge of their range. In recent years the White-tail has come into its own in this area.

Yet much this prosperity was to be short-lived. By the 1950s, the conifer forests began to close in again, and browse plants dwindled in abundance. As a result, many of the above animals went into relative decline. Moose populations decreased from about 2000 animals in 1952, to probably fewer than 1000 by 1965. In an attempt to rejuvenate some of Wells Gray’s most productive winter ranges, a burning programme was initiated in the late 1960s.

Even so, Wells Gray’s wildlife is clearly not all that it used to be. Nowadays, the Chipmunk is confined largely to the man-made burns, while the Beaver has in many areas run out of Aspen to gnaw. As for the Columbian Groundsquirrel, its lowland range is now mostly restricted to road edges and meadows. Meanwhile, the Badger may have disappeared altogether.

Following is a list of the park’s mammals.

Mammals of Wells Gray Park
VIEWING STATUS: (in appropriate habitat):
= regularly seen
= often seen
= occasionally seen

= rarely seen
= not seen
= further study required
Common Name Summer
Scientific Name
Common Shrew ! Sorex cinereus
Dusky Shrew * * Sorex monticolus
Pygmy Shrew Sorex hoyi
Vagrant Shrew ! Sorex vagrans
Water Shrew * Sorex palustris
Big Brown Bat ** Eptesicus fuscus
Little Brown Bat *** Myotis lucifugus
California Bat ! Myotis californicus
Hoary Bat ! Lasiurus cinereus
Long-eared Bat ! Myotis evotis
Long-legged Bat ! Myotis volans
Silver-haired Bat * Lasionycteris noctivagans
Varying Hare * * Lepus americanus
Common Pika ** Ochotona princeps
Beaver * Castor canadensis
Yellow Pine Chipmunk ** Eutamias amoenus
Columbian Ground Squirrel *** Spermophilus columbianus
Golden-mantled Gr. Squirrel Spermophilus lateralis
Northern Bog Lemming Synaptomys borealis
Hoary Marmot ** Marmota caligata
Deer Mouse ** * Peromyscus maniculatus
Western Jumping Mouse * Zapus princeps
Muskrat * Ondatra zibethicus
American Porcupine * * Erethizon dorsatum
Bushy-tailed Woodrat Neotoma cinera
Northern Flying Squirrel Glaucomys sabrinus
American Red Squirrel *** *** Tamiasciurus hudsonicus
Heather Vole ! Phenacomys intermedius
Meadow Vole Microtus pennsylvanicus
Long-tailed Vole ! Microtus longicaudus
Southern Red-backed Vole * * Clethrionomys gapperi
Water Vole ! Microtus richardsoni
Woodchuck * Marmota monax
Coyote * ** Canis latrans
Red Fox Vulpes vulpes
Gray Wolf * * Canis lupis
Black Bear ** Ursus americanus
Grizzly Bear Ursus arctos
Badger Taxidea taxus
Ermine Mustela erminea
Fisher Martes pennanti
Marten ** ** Martes americana
Mink * * Mustela vison
River Otter * * Lontra canadensis
Striped Skunk * Mephitis mephitis
Least Weasel Mustela nivalis
Long-tailed Weasel ** * Mustela frenata
Wolverine Gulo gulo
Bobcat * Lynx rufus
Cougar * Felis concolor
Lynx Lynx canadensis
Caribou * * Rangifer tarandus
Mule Deer *** ** Odocoileus hemionus
Moose ** *** Alces alces
White-tailed Deer ** * Odocoileus virginianus
Mountain Goat * Oreamnos americanus

Text extracted, with partial updates, from the 2nd edition of Nature Wells Gray: A Visitors’ Guide to the Park, by Trevor Goward & Cathie Hickson © 1995, for several years out of print, and now awaiting sponsorship toward a third, much improved edition.

Next up: Mountain Zones