First wolf release season in Colorado now complete

Local ranchers still skeptical

By Katherine Nettles

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) has completed its first season of gray wolf capture and releases, with 10 wolves released in Grand County beginning in December 2023. The state agency says that there have not yet been any reports of wolf sightings, issues or depredation, and last week published a map showing where wolves have been in the past month. This map will be updated each month with new tracking data. 

CPW announced that it will not capture and release more wolves until the December 2024–March 2025 capture season as it adjusts to the new workload of having wolves on the ground while awaiting potential new funding from the state as well. 

CPW will be sourcing its next batch of wolves from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in northeastern Washington in December 2024. Although the agency is permitted through its Wolf Restoration and Management Plan to release up to five more wolves this capture season for a total of 15 wolves, it will instead take some additional time to assess the releases it conducted in December 2023 and allow CPW staff time to adjust to its new management responsibilities. 

This move also allows more time for the potential arrival of additional funding resources for CPW and the Colorado Department of Agriculture, as proposed in the Governor’s budget to support ranchers, that would become effective July 1.

According to CPW public information supervisor Travis Duncan, the releases so far have been without incident. “There have not been any confirmed sightings,” he said, but the agency is getting plenty of inquiries from curious callers. 

Duncan said that while there have not been depredations, CPW will continue to have conversations with local producers and landowners in release areas, as well as county commissioners and other decision makers. 

CPW and the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in November 2023 outlining how the agencies will collaborate to manage the reintroduction of gray wolves and work to prevent wildlife and livestock conflicts. The MOU is meant to help the agencies coordinate in support of Colorado’s livestock and landowner communities in advancing non-lethal predator management and help prevent wildlife and livestock conflict.

In December, Gunnison County Stockgrowers’ Association (GCSA) president Andy Spann spoke with the Crested Butte News on the heels of a U.S. District Court decision to deny the GCSA and Colorado Cattlemen’s Association’s request to block the wolf reintroductions to the state. 

Spann said the ranchers involved were currently deciding on their next steps, having been involved in the wolf reintroduction discussion for more than a year.

“It wasn’t a last-minute decision,” he said of the December lawsuit, despite some allegations to that effect from environmental groups. “We’ve had lots of discussions with CPW over the last several months. It was a matter of trying to get the federal agencies to hold themselves to the same standards they hold us to.” Spann was referring to the National Environmental Policy Act which requires an environmental impact study for any major public land use changes, and which was not used in this wolf reintroduction process. 

Spann commented that while some wolf-reintroduction advocacy groups consider that it’s not a large group of wolves being released at this stage, they are expected to grow into a self-sustaining population. “They are just like other animals. They reproduce. I think they will thrive because of the ungulate [hoofed animal] population,” said Spann. “And I think the impacts will be greater than people expect. There are predators everywhere, and it’s not usually a problem, but wolves are different. There will be impacts to recreation: skiers, hikers, campers, backpackers. Seeing a wolf and being in a situation you wouldn’t expect will have an impact on our tourism. And there’s nothing in the plan that helps outfitters,” he said.

Spann also predicted that the effort of livestock growers to keep wolves away, and all the labor associated with it, from fencing to hiring rangeriders, will be the biggest burden they face. “That’s a cost that we have to bear,” he said, and there is an emotional burden as well which may cause some ranches to go out of business. “It’s a big impact on families, to lose someone to more time in the field, and to be more stressed out about their livelihood. I know that affects ranchers personally.”

Spann said he has been in touch with ranchers he knows in the northern area of Colorado where wolves were released and said there is consensus that it’s hard to accept this came not from a federal agency managing wildlife, but from voters in a different region of the state. 

“It would have come across differently if CPW had stated they believed in this and had a plan, a timeline. But it’s hard that it came from voters, and largely not voters from this area,” he said.

CPW reported that its personnel have received wolf-livestock depredation field identification/investigation training from Wyoming Game and Fish and are also skilled in identifying/investigating livestock depredations caused by other depredating species.

“Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff will conserve and manage wolves in concert with the rest of our state’s native wildlife. That will involve active management to address conflicts between wolves, people, livestock, and other wildlife species,” said Duncan. 

“When wolf-livestock depredations occur, CPW will work closely with ranchers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to recommend approved hazing methods. Some methods include, but are not limited to: carcass management, physical barriers (i.e., fencing and electrified fencing), guard animals, auditory and visual scare tactics (i.e., fladry, lights, sirens), and increased human presence/vigilance. Please note, CPW has a damage claim process that applies to livestock and/or working dogs when injured or killed.”

All wolves released in Colorado are collared, and CPW collects GPS collar data to record wolves’ positions every four hours, then shares it with CPW biologists. CPW declined to comment on how far some of them have roamed, and if they have stayed together or paired off, etc. Wolf pups will not be collared, so the GPS data will become less accurate over time as wolves mate. 

“Wolves are known to travel up to 30 miles per day, and it should be expected for them to travel. To protect the wolves that CPW reintroduces, GPS data will not be made publicly available, however local wildlife officers will be working with their communities to educate and inform as pack territories develop. It is too soon to know where wolves will establish. Once wolves breed and develop den and rendezvous sites, their pack territories will become more clear. It will take time to collect enough data from the collars to determine where the animals’ home range or pack territories will be. We will share known pack territories once they establish so that people know they live in a wolf pack range,” said Duncan. 

“CPW is limited to investigating and providing information based on what is provided via sighting forms, but it is not unreasonable to expect to see wolves moving in and around the Grand County and Summit County areas and we ask that, for the safety and well-being of the gray wolves, specific locations not be shared for unconfirmed reports.

“We ask that anyone claiming to see wolves in their area fill out our wolf sighting form, especially if they have photos or videos, in order to better understand whether this sighting is credible and determine the level of investigation needed.”

More information about the gray wolf, its biological history, current pack origins, roaming map and other updates can be found at cpw.state.co.us/aboutus/Pages/News-Release-Details.aspx?NewsID=4007. 

A wolf sighting form can be found at cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/Wolf-Sighting-Form.aspx.

Check Also

CBMR construction along Westwall

Temporary trail closure By Kendra Walker While Crested Butte Mountain Resort is open for summer …