Keeping the Canis Lupus at Bay
Wolves at the Back Door in Lake County
At first sight, it looked to be a bear, down on all fours, passing through the snowy backyard in search of a morsel before the Christmas storms came in. But as Charlie Marshall gave the wildlife camera footage from his home located west of Leadville Today a second look, he realized it was a gray.
And while some may find the discovery – which was initially reported in Westword – of a wolf at the backdoor of a front range realtor’s second home a bit, well, ironic, it was the first “official” gray wolf sighting in Lake County. At least since Proposition 114, a ballot initiative to introduce wolves west of the continental divide was passed by Coloradans in November 2020 and began being actively managed and monitored by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) in January 2021.
As of yet, no official CPW report has been filed by Marshall. But ask any of the locals who regularly venture into the backcountry, and they’ll tell you they’ve already seen these large canines – or at the very least evidence – that they have been passing thru Lake County for quite some time. After all, there is a difference between the snow print of a gray wolf and one left behind by a dog or even a coyote. A big difference!
Wolf Sighting and Confirmations
There are known wolves in the state. According to CPW, over the past decade they have confirmed or have had probable wolf dispersals that occurred in 2004, 2006, 2009, and 2015. Wolves that migrate in and out of Colorado would likely come from the Northern Rockies populations currently in the states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
“We typically field around 100 sightings each year,” CPW officials reported. When confirmed sightings occur, the number of additional reports spike. However, wolf reports are typically not considered reliable without strong supporting evidence.
Therefore, if you think you’ve seen a wolf in Colorado, you can help biologists by filling out the Wolf Sighting Form. The potential source populations of introduced wolves is not yet known; this information will be included in the overall introduction and management plan being developed as a result of the passage of 114.
Background: Gray Wolf Management
According to the CPW website, until 2021, the gray wolf had been protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) in Colorado since 1974. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) published a rule to delist the species nationwide on November 3, 2020, which returned management control of the species to state and tribal wildlife agencies, including CPW, on January 4, 2021. Litigation has been filed on the federal delisting decision. In the meantime, Colorado Parks and Wildlife remains the managing authority over wolves in the state. Even with the current federal delisting, the species remains listed as endangered under state law in Colorado, and take of gray wolves will remain prohibited.
Colorado is part of the gray wolf’s native range, but wolves were eradicated from the state by the 1940s. Over the past decade, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) restored gray wolves into Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and Arizona. Individual wolves, including two wolves that have since mated and produced pups in Jackson County, have been periodically migrating into Colorado. It is possible that wolves from the south may do so someday as well.
To prepare for any future wolf migrations into Colorado, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) created a multi-disciplinary working group that drafted a Wolf Management Plan. The wolf working group’s recommendations were adopted in their entirety by the Colorado Wildlife Commission at its May 2005 meeting, and affirmed by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission in 2016. ?
On October 29, 2020, the Department of the Interior announced a rule to delist the gray wolf from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. The rule was published in the Federal Register on November 3, 2020 and took effect on January 4, 2021, transferring management authority over the gray wolf in Colorado from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to CPW.
The species remains listed as a state endangered species in Colorado, and take of gray wolves will remain prohibited. Under C.R.S. 33-6-109, penalties including fines, jail time and/or loss of license privileges apply.
CPW will continue to monitor wolf dispersal into and within Colorado. Additionally, as directed by the voters of Colorado through the passage of Colorado Proposition 114, CPW will work with federal counterparts, neighboring states, partners and stakeholders across Colorado to create a plan to implement the outcome of the ballot vote.