Colorado prepares for wolf reintroduction

Wolves, largely absent from the Colorado landscape for more than a century, will roam the state again after voters narrowly approved a ballot issue to begin reintroduction efforts.

“Definitely, people are celebrating that we’re going to have wolves again,” said TWS member Gary Skiba, a former biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife who has been actively involved with the effort spearheaded by the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Travis Duncan said the agency will begin holding public hearings to determine where on the state’s Western Slope it will reintroduce the carnivores.

“The votes passed,” he said. “Now, we know we have to start planning. Those meetings will be starting soon.” The recent decision to remove wolves from the federal Endangered Species Act will also play a role in the way the state manages the animals, Duncan said.

Saying that reintroduction “will help restore a critical balance in nature,” the ballot measure instructs Colorado Parks and Wildlife to “take the steps necessary” to begin gray wolf (Canis lupus) reintroduction by 2023 and directs the state to compensate farmers and ranchers for the loss of livestock due to wolf predation.

Wolf tracks from a sighting in Moffat County, Colorado in January. Credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

The measure was closely contested, winning with 50.6% of the vote, over the opposition of many ranchers, farmers and hunters who are concerned about wolves preying on livestock and elk (Cervus canadensis). According to the measure, wolf restoration must be designed “to resolve conflicts with persons engaged in ranching and farming in this state.”

Wolves were extirpated from the state in 1945 when the last known one was killed, Skiba said, though the canids probably weren’t found in any great numbers in the state since the mid- to late-1800s due to ongoing eradication efforts.

“We eradicated a species that was part of our system when it should be here,” he said.

Since then, individual wolves have occasionally made their way into the state before leaving again or being killed by cars, poison or hunters mistaking them for coyotes (Canis latrans). About six wolves were spotted in northwest Colorado in January, but those individuals also traveled in and out of state lines.

To read The Wildlife Society’s statement on wolf delisting, click here.

Header Image: Voters directed Colorado Parks and Wildlife to reintroduce wolves to the state within three years. Credit: John and Karen Hollingsworth/USFWS