Due to a recent increase in unconfirmed sightings and reports of wolves in Colorado, in addition to confirmed sightings over the past several years, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials say it is increasingly likely that the growing wolf populations and range in nearby states will eventually expand across state lines. To help prevent the illegal take of the species, officials are reminding the public that wolves remain protected by the federal Endangered Species Act in Colorado.
Each year, CPW wildlife managers traverse the state by land and air to classify big game, but none have observed wolf packs, dens or any other evidence wolves exist at the population level in Colorado. Wildlife managers believe that is likely to change in the near future and are preparing for the eventual establishment of wolf populations in the state.
“Wolves are known to travel long distances and we expect that they will continue to come into the state on their own. We have a duty to let the public know about this possibility to help prevent someone from accidentally killing a wolf,” said CPW Director Bob Broscheid. “Identifying the target and the species you are hunting is critical and a major tenet of safe and ethical hunting. Whether you are a trapper, or an elk hunter, deer hunter, coyote hunter or a landowner protecting livestock from predators, you must be sure of your target before you take any animal.”
Various incidents over the past several years confirm that wolves occasionally visit northern Colorado, including a wolf killed in a vehicle collision on Interstate 70 near Idaho Springs in 2004. Three years later, two CPW wildlife officers captured video of an animal with strong wolf-like characteristics along the Colorado-Wyoming border, a few miles north of Walden. In 2009, a radio-collared gray wolf was found dead north of Rifle. In April of 2015, a trailcam, again near Walden, captured photos of an animal that appears to be a wolf. The unconfirmed sighting is considered credible.
Also in April of 2015, a small-game hunter mistakenly killed what he thought was a coyote near Wolford Mountain Reservoir, a few miles north of Kremmling. After an investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, agency biologists positively identified the animal as a gray wolf.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - the agency with jurisdiction over wolves in Colorado - 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.
Although he faced significant penalties, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service chose to not charge the hunter after their investigation determined he was hunting legally, did not intentionally kill the wolf and immediately reported the incident to Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials.
Other reports and sightings in Colorado include visual observations of large wolf-like animals, scat and tracks. Though not confirmed, some have reported hearing what they believed to be the howling of a wolf.
In 2004, CPW convened a diverse group of individuals representing a variety of interests to develop the Colorado Wolf Management Plan, adopted by the Colorado Wildlife Commission the following year. The plan details Colorado’s management strategy when wolves become established in the state.
“Although it remains rare, a credible sighting now and then cannot be considered highly unusual anymore,” adds Broscheid. “I believe it is only a matter of time before they begin to move here in larger numbers and we must prepare for that eventuality.”
For more information about wolves and wolf management in Colorado, visit www.cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/SOC-Wolves.aspx
The public is urged to report any sighting of wolves in Colorado by filling out the online Wolf Sighting Form.
Photographic evidence is useful but unless it’s scat or tracks, CPW recommends that video and still photos be taken from a distance with a telephoto lens. Do not approach wildlife at any time.