Gray wolves were eradicated from Colorado by the 1940s to protect domestic livestock, but groups like the Sierra Club are working to change public perception of wolves in hopes of reintroducing the animals to their former habitat. United States Fish and Wildlife Service has restored wolf populations to Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and Arizona. Colorado is the last holdout. A few wolves have migrated into Colorado’s North and Middle Park, but the animals haven’t been officially reintroduced, largely due to continued opposition from livestock producers and hunting organizations.
At last spring’s Rio Blanco County Woolgrowers meeting, Justin Ewing, a trapper for the United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services office said, “It’s just a matter of time before we have an established wolf population here. The days of ‘no-wolves’ tunnel vision are over. They’re going to come, one way or another.”
If wolves are intentionally introduced, as they have been in other states, they can be managed if they cause trouble for livestock or humans, but if wolves migrate into Colorado, they are considered an endangered species and come under federal protection laws. Killing a wolf or any endangered species can result in criminal charges, a year in prison and fines up to $100,000 per offense, depending on circumstances and the discretion of federal authorities.
Reintroducing wolves in areas where ranching is prevalent doesn’t always end well for the wolves. The Wyoming Wolf Recovery 2016 annual report listed 243 confirmed wolf-kills of livestock, including 154 cattle, 88 sheep and one horse. In addition, 24 cattle, two sheep and one horse were injured by wolves but survived. As a result, wildlife managers killed 113 wolves that were confirmed to be attacking livestock. The state of Wyoming paid cattle and sheep producers $315,062 in compensation for livestock losses.
Pro-wolf activists believe western Colorado is the ideal habitat for wolves, due to the large populations of deer and elk. In Ewing’s opinion, the activists are interested in “natural control” of deer and elk rather than allowing human hunters to manage herd numbers, and said human safety when it comes to wolves “isn’t on the radar.”
In 2016, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission formally opposed the release of wolves in the state 7-4.
The Trappers Lake Sierra Club group, which serves Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt counties, is hosting an informational meeting about the benefits of reintroducing wolves to Colorado on Dec. 7 at 6 p.m. in the Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat Springs, Colo. The meeting will include two short films, “Meet the Real Wolf” and “Canis Lupus Colorado,” followed by a discussion titled “Wolves in Colorado: Restoring the Balance,” led by Delia Malone, Sierra Club wildlife chair.
The films were produced by the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, which states its mission as “to improve public understanding of gray wolf behavior, ecology and options for re-establishing the species in Colorado. The benchmark of our success: Wolves again roaming the snow-capped peaks, rim rock canyons and primeval forests of western Colorado.”