That gray wolves will be reintroduced to Colorado is a fact: Proposition 114 requires their release on the West Slope by December 31, 2023.
But when it comes to exactly how many wolves will be released – and where – no one can say. It’s at Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), which is responsible for restoring and managing the apex predator in that state, along with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
To solicit feedback and engage with the public, CPW hosted open houses in Colorado on the topic of wolf reintroduction and offered additional focus groups for West Slope residents.
The wildlife service has also established two groups, including a stakeholder advisory group, to help inform its decision-making as the process continues (learn more and follow on wolfengagementco.org).
Members of the public are invited to attend stakeholder meetings; a SAG meeting was held at the Ute Museum in Montrose last week, and additional meetings are planned for Grand Junction, Divide and Durango in the coming months. Matt Barnes, range scientist and wildlife conservation advocate for the Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative, is a member of the stakeholder group. Barnes visited the northern Colorado ranch where wolves recently attacked and killed livestock.
“We believe there are eight wolves in North Park, although there are credible reports that there may be more,” he said. “As far as we know it’s only one pack, a male and a female that found their way here from (the Yellowstone pack in) Wyoming. Which is amazing, because wolves can be shot on sight in Wyoming.
He described the couple’s likely journey. “These wolves likely followed the Colorado Divide, down the Wind River Range through the Seminoe Mountains,” Barnes said. “If they stuck to this path, along the red desert, the first point where they would reach green, wooded mountains full of elks would be just as they approached the mountains leading to North Park. passed a barren expanse where people were shooting at them, and now they’re back in the mountains, at the base of the Medicine Bow Mountains, and that’s just the first place they came to in Colorado.
It is not, Barnes pointed out, “a place where a reintroduction of wolves would occur in Colorado: wolves will be reintroduced to the western part of the state”, surrounded by “mountains, moose and public lands “.
It’s likely, Barnes continued, that the reintroduced wolves will be released around the middle of the state. The law decrees that the release must take place “on the western slope, and at least 60 miles from the state line. Places that have been identified for release previously – the Grand Mesa, the Flattops and the San Juans — are all 60 miles from the state line,” Barnes noted. On the other hand, “there are a lot of big mountains in the middle of the state” where officials can find a release site.
It’s a question of economics: The wolf tracking project is a huge and expensive undertaking, which state officials hope will be a success.
“On a practical level, they don’t want the first animals released in Colorado to leave Colorado,” Barnes said. “You hope the first, second and maybe third generation stay here. Surrounding states are watching all of this carefully; they are concerned. It’s probably in everyone’s interest that a few years pass before the first wolf appears in northern New Mexico, or Utah” of that state.
And for those who live in the San Juans, “especially if you’re talking about San Miguel County and surrounding areas, you’re probably unlikely to see wolves there until at least 2024, and possibly much longer, depending on where. they’re released,” Barnes added. “It’s pretty amazing that they made it to North Park. But there’s just no reason to think they’d magically appear in ‘-for example-‘ Norwood, of all places,” he continued. “Although eventually they will.”
What could we be doing right now to prepare, Barnes was asked, while waiting for the wolves to be released in western Colorado? “Right now the best thing is probably to find unbiased and legitimate information” about living with wolves, he replied. “There’s information out there, but you have to sort through a lot of nonsense to find it, especially if you’re not an expert on it. A hunter might imagine that the best and most objective information about living with wolves would come from a hunting publication” (it does not, he said). “And, to be fair, some environmental organizations offer a little exaggerated information on the pro-wolf side.”
For those interested in learning more, Barnes recommended starting by visiting CSU’s Center for Human Carnivore Existence and downloading the free publication “People and Predator Series: Colorado Wolves.” “This is the most comprehensive scientific review,” he said.
There is a model for reintroducing the wolf to the road, he added. “If you go to Montana, people have been living with wolves for 25 years,” Barnes said. “People still walk with their dogs in the forest. People still ranch; there is very little evidence of wolves or grizzly bears bankrupting a ranch. People are still shooting the elk. In fact, there are more elk than ever before. Montana elk hunting revenues have increased. It’s not that wolves have no impact on the landscape. But their impacts are much less” than one might imagine.