Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks support a diversity of animal species. There are over 260 known native vertebrate species in the parks, and numerous additional species may be present. Of the native vertebrates, five species are extirpated, and over 150 are rare or uncommon. While there have been some studies of park invertebrates, there is not enough information to know how many species occur in the parks. Many of the parks' caves contain invertebrates, some of which occur only in one cave and are known nowhere else in the world. The variety of wildlife in the parks reflects the variety in elevation, climate, and habitat.
In the foothills, summers are hot and dry and winters are mild, with moderate rainfall. Plant life is largely chaparral on the lower slopes with blue oak and California buckeye in the valleys and higher slopes. A number of animals live in this area year-round; some breed here, while others winter here. Local species include the gray fox, bobcat, striped and spotted skunks, black bear, woodrat, pocket gopher, white-footed mouse, California quail, scrub jay, lesser goldfinch, wrentit, acorn woodpecker, gopher snake, California kingsnake, striped racer, western whiptail lizard, and the California newt.
In the low to mid montane elevations, one finds mixed forests of ponderosa pine, incense cedar, white fir, sugar pine, and scattered groves of giant sequoia. Further upslope, Jeffrey pine are scattered on dry granitic slopes, and pure stands of magnificent red fir and lodgepole pine forest the upper montane zone. Quaking aspen rim the moist meadows and grow on the cool slopes. Meadows are lush with many kinds of flowers in the summer. Winters in this region bring snow, sometimes to depths of 6 to 15 feet. Year-round and seasonal residents include the chickaree, gray squirrel, golden-mantled ground squirrel, mule deer, black bear, mountain lion, and migratory and a variety of resident birds (western tanager, violet-green swallow, white-throated swift, Wilson's warbler, olive-sided flycatcher, hermit thrush, western bluebird, and pileated woodpecker). Reptiles are not common, but the mountain kingsnake, rubber boa, western fence lizard, and alligator lizard are occasionally seen.
The high country is a land of lakes, meadows, some open forest, and miles of granite. Mammals are less common here, and food is scarce. It is only here that you will find the elusive Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep. Other mammals include the marmot, pika, and white-tailed jack rabbit. Birds include the Clark's nutcracker, mountain bluebird, and rosy finch. In this region, you may also be lucky enough to find a mountain yellow-legged frog, a declining species for which recovery efforts are now underway.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks' Branch of Wildlife and Aquatics has the following goals: to provide baseline information on park wildlife; to understand and mitigate resource threats; and to provide for resource safety (e.g. human-bear management ). The most important threats to the parks' ecosystems are the loss of a natural fire regime, exotic species, air pollution, habitat fragmentation, and climate change. Additional challenges to wildlife management include: conflicts between wildlife and people, mortality of wildlife caused both accidentally and by poaching, and insufficient information on many species.
Have you ever considered a career with wildlife? Would you like to come for a summer to work on a small mammal project, a week to survey for peregrine falcons, or even just a day to help with the Christmas Bird Count? There is no better time than the present to get involved! Every summer, we hire seasonal biological technicians and Student Conservation Association interns. Volunteer opportunities exist throughout the year. And remember, if you are in the parks and observe wildlife, stop by the visitor center so we can enter the sighting into our wildlife database.