Placer High grad shares her rare wolverine sighting

Moriarty presents to current Placer High AP Environmental students
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Placer High School students got a little inspiration from a wolverine spotting alumni Tuesday afternoon. Katie Moriarty, a 1999 Placer High graduate, went on to capture a photo in 2008 of the first wolverine spotted in California since 1926 during her work as a biologist. The carnivorous critter walked up to a camera she had originally set up in Truckee to capture photos of another rare carnivore species called martens. It was the only wolverine ever spotted in California that was North of Tahoe. That first photo prompted an action team to mobilize to search for more data and photos of the animal. She said the findings could make land management agencies responsible for protecting wolverine habitats, which span thousands of miles. “It has to be the rarest mammal in California,” Moriarty said during her presentation. “There are a lot of different reasons. We could talk about politics. They stop timber, ski resorts. From a scientific standpoint, man, curiosity — Why wouldn’t you want to know?” Her presentation to teacher Dan Galloway’s Advanced Placement Environmental students included some of the methods and findings of her scientific work in the field. Currently, Moriarty is working toward earning her PhD at Oregon State University and works for the U.S. Forest Service. Her specialty is in studying martens. She said the loss of predators, like martens and wolverines, has an impact on many species. “As soon as you lose the predators, you lose biodiversity,” Moriarty said. Galloway said guest speakers and hands-on projects give students the chance to learn in a different way. “I think one of the things students really get a lot out of is when they talk with important guest speakers,” Galloway said. “It helps out if people went to Placer or are younger.” This is only the second year Placer has offered the AP Environmental class, but Galloway said passing rates for the AP Environmental exam are already 85 percent. About 50 percent of students taking the test earned a four or five, making students eligible for college credits. Field trips for the class have included a tour of the Auburn Waste Water Treatment Plant, which the city donated a bus for, and an excursion to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. Galloway said the broad field of study enables students to explore everything from electric cars to animal species. Kenneth Nicholay, a junior, did a research project on biodiesel produced from algae. “It showed there was a huge amount of biodiesel from algae that was more than all the biodiesel produced from corn,” Nicholay said. He shared about another project where students studied the effects of different levels of chemicals on brine shrimp. Nicholay said it opened his eyes to the fact that even a small amount of chemicals can be toxic. Junior Ashley Massa hopes to become a marine biologist one day, specializing in sharks. She said her project on sharks yielded some interesting findings. “Mine was on sharks as a keystone species,” Massa said. “The crazy stuff I found is global warming causes more shark attacks.” Junior Maddye Yudall said she prefers the more hands-on projects. She said any nature-lover could benefit from taking the course. “I like the water tests and all of the hands-on stuff outdoors,” Yudall said. “Probably anyone who likes to go outside or just learn certain stuff about the environment.” Reach Sara Seyydin at