What's up with wolves in Colorado?
by Cat Urbigkit, Pinedale Online!
June 11, 2007
Colorado is part of the gray wolf’s native range, but wolves were eradicated from the state by the mid-1930s, according to a statement from the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Over the past decade, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reintroduced gray wolves into states north and south of the Colorado border, including Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and Arizona, and some observers believe it is only a matter of time before wolves start migrating into Colorado from the north and south. In fact, several Yellowstone-area wolves have already been discovered in that state.
Researchers say dispersing wolves—especially single male wolves—can travel long distances. To prepare for any future wolf migrations into Colorado, the DOW established a multi-disciplinary work group that developed a draft Wolf Management Plan. The Colorado Wildlife Commission, at its May 2005 meeting, adopted these recommendations without change.
On Feb. 16, 2006, district wildlife managers with the DOW were able to capture brief video of a suspected wolf. The DOW was able to observe the animal because a landowner quickly reported seeing it about 10 miles south of the Colorado-Wyoming border north of the community of Walden. Biologists and wolf specialists who have examined the video say the animal seen on tape looks and behaves like a wolf.
"There's really no way to be absolutely sure just by looking at an animal, and even genetic testing isn’t 100% reliable” said Gary Skiba, Senior Wildlife Conservation Biologist and DOW coordinator for the state's Wolf Management Working Group.
The animal on the videotape had no visible tags or collars. Such indicators could more easily link the animal to federal efforts to reintroduce the northern gray wolf in Yellowstone National Park. Many offspring wolves lack any markings, but so do wolf-dog hybrids that could also be in the wild.
Reports from southern Wyoming indicate that this same animal was spotted approximately eight miles north of the border several days before and after the North Park video was filmed. It is possible that the animal is searching to establish territory or looking for a mate along the Colorado-Wyoming border.
Whether the North Park animal is a wolf or a hybrid, and whether it stayed in Colorado, doesn't affect the way the state handles wolves that migrate into Colorado. Wolves are currently managed under federal law due to their status as an endangered species. The Colorado Wildlife Commission adopted a comprehensive plan for migrating wolves in 2005, but it will only take effect when the wolf is removed from federal protection.
DOW began wolf management planning with a series of public meetings around the state in March 2004. These meetings were designed to identify issues the public felt should be addressed when developing a wolf management plan. The wolf working group was appointed in the late spring
of 2004. The group (four livestock producers, four wildlife advocates, two sportsmen, two county commissioners, and two professional wildlife biologists) was given the difficult task of coming to an agreement on how the DOW should manage wolves that migrate into Colorado from recovery areas in the northern Rockies or Arizona and New Mexico.
The State of Colorado has no plans to reintroduce wolves, so the plan only focuses on migratory wolves that might enter the state.?
Initially the group operated under the expectation that management of migrating wolves would be turned over to the state at any time, however a federal judge ruled in January 2005 that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rulemaking regarding distinct population segments was in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The judge's ruling keeps management of all wolves under the control of the FWS.
When state management is approved, the Colorado Wolf Management Plan will be implemented.
Highlights of the state management plan include:
• Wolves should be allowed to live without boundaries in suitable habitat in Colorado.
• Wolf populations will be carefully monitored.
• Voluntary non-lethal methods should be used to prevent wolves from causing damage.
• Livestock producers should be compensated when wolves kill or injure livestock and herding and guard dogs.
• Research will be an important component of wolf management.
• Funding for wolf management should come from sources other than hunting licenses.
• Wildlife managers may control predators if they are inhibiting management of other wildlife populations as directed by a species management plan.
• Wolf-dog hybrids should not be released into the wild.