Colorado Wolf Reintroduction – Not Gaining Ground?

Colorado is poised to implement a wolf reintroduction program in the next couple of years. Most of the wolves in the western United States are located in the Northern Rockies. Wolves that wander into the state on their own are now protected by state law. So why have they not been able to successfully migrate to the Southern Rockies of Colorado?

Colorado Wolf Reintroduction

Colorado has not officially begun reintroducing wolves yet. The legislature passed a bill that states that a plan must be developed to reintroduce and manage gray wolves in Colorado no later than December 31, 2023, on designated lands west of the Continental Divide.

The execution of this plan is a whole other matter, especially if the state swings back to Republican control before then. Once some of the strongest supporters of conservation, the new GOP tends to support no holds barred killing more so than traditional hunting. States like Wisconsin and Idaho allow the use of poison baits, night hunting, hunting from a helicopter, chasing predators down to exhaustion with packs of dogs, killing wolf pups in the den, and having online hunting contests. This is a mockery of responsible resource management.

Female Gray Wolf

Currently, any wolves in Colorado are those that migrate from neighboring states like Wyoming. Wolves that do find themselves in Colorado are protected as an endangered species under state law, even though they have been delisted at the federal level.

This delisting is just another example of the policy decisions that most people grew numb to during the Trump administration.

The Biden administration now has its hands full with the pandemic as well as undoing the damage of the last 4 years and unfortunately, there has been no action toward righting this wrong.

First Pups born in Colorado in 80 years

Wolf Pup looking cute

M2101 and F1084 as they are known scientifically each made separate journeys into Colorado. They found one another and denned together in North Park, in north-central Colorado. The site was observed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff and to their surprise, they confirmed six pups. This was huge news since it was the first known wolves born in the state in more than 80 years! The parents were nicknamed, “John” and “Jane,” and there was widespread excitement about this news.

All is not well for this pack though. They face the same anti-wolf attitudes that are ubiquitous in the Western US. Fear born out of European colonialism, folktales, and misinformation.

So Why Aren’t Wolves Coming?

Back in 2009, a wolf known as 314F traveled thousands of miles between 5 states before settling in Colorado. 314F did not survive long however as she encountered a lethal predator poison known as compound 1080. This chemical was banned in the 70s due to widespread misuse and inadvertently killed off many birds. Unfortunately it became legal again in 1985 and has stayed legal since then.

The Southern Rockies — and Colorado — are not a sanctuary for predators even with new state protections. This is a mix of private and public land that pits private property owners squarely against predators. Rio Blanco is a conservative ranching community. The attitudes here are much like those in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. In the spring of 2021 the Rio Blanco Board of County Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution declaring that the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s “artificial reintroduction,” would not be allowed.

The Northern Rockies may be connected to the Southern Rockies by geography but politics, and die-hard anti-wolf perspectives still pose a formidable barrier worse than any landmass.

Colorado landscape

Opposition

Wolves are at the mercy of the laws on the books on what ever landmass they find themselves. Since being federally delisted, management (or mismanagement) happens at the state level. Wolves have a huge range and unfortunately, the invisible borders between states elude them. A wolf that is protected in Colorado can be shot on sight if it were to wander over to Wyoming. It’s status can swing from protected on indigenous lands or national parks to unprotected and fair game just outside those borders.

Once there were tens of thousands of wolves in the Western United States and now there are only about 2000. Most of them are concentrated in the Northern Rockies. So while they may be protected in Colorado’s Southern Rockies, it’s quite a challenge for the wolves to actually get there on their own.

Southern Rockies of Colorado on Google Maps
Wolves could move into the Southern Rockies from the Green River basin in neighboring Wyoming and Utah but to do so they must pass through extremely hostile territory.

What’s next?

It will be interesting to see what plan for wolf reintroduction materializes in Colorado by 2023. It will be even more interesting to see if any such plan will be enacted and if so for how long. One thing I have come to realize in this country is that the pendulum swings quite a ways from one election season to the next.

A GOP administration in Colorado would likely promote laws to eradicate all or nearly all wolves were they to gain a foothold. This would be the same as they have done in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Politicians in America have a long history of cutting off their noses to spite the faces especially if it appeals to a rabid base.

A country as divided as this lacks stability for its citizens, the environment, and wildlife. It’s no good to make our castles out of sand and then complain when the waves wash it away. Unfortunately, wolves will continue to be at the mercy of our political whims for the foreseeable future.

What can you do to Help?

If you are disturbed by the situation in MontanaIdahoWisconsin and elsewhere in America and Canada:

  • You should write to elected officials and tell them that you choose not to visit their state until they pick up the torch of science-based conservation again. I mean the whole point of visiting the outdoors is for a wilderness experience. A healthy predator population keeps nature in balance. These laws are not based on science but political pressure from agriculture, hunting groups, sportsmen businesses, and B-list celebrities like Ted Nugent.
  • You could sign this petition on change.org

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9 thoughts on “Colorado Wolf Reintroduction – Not Gaining Ground?”

  1. Very interesting article. Although I am not from the US, I like to read articles about wildlife and it’s amazing how much damage some political decisions can make. It’s a shame that even in 2021 wolves are such an endangered species and there is no respect for wildlife even with local laws protecting them. Such beautiful animals should thrive and not try to survive extinction!

    Reply
  2. Thank you for sharing this post on wolves and their reintroduction. It is disturbing how many people are ignorant to their plight. It is indeed good news about the 6 puppies that were born, but without protection, they might fall victim to hunters. 

    As I do not live in the USA, I am in Europe, what is the best way that I can help? Is there a similar petition to the one that you mention that would help wolves in Europe?

    Reply
    • You could consider a donation to the International Wolf FoundationWith your support, they aim to spread the facts about wolves and work to ensure their survival around the globe. Their mission is:

      The International Wolf Center advances the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands and the human role in their future.

      Reply
  3. Unfortunately, innocent wolves have to suffer for man to pocket an extra buck! Isn’t there a middle ground where humans can live side by side with wild animals? We’ve become such a capitalistic world that everything else has to take a backseat to money. It’s unfortunate. And even more important to note is that we are the ones who invaded the wildlife space and not the other way round.

    Reply
    • People really have to make an effort to kill a wolf. They are not like coyotes, they won’t hang around cities or towns. They want to be away from people. We keep pushing them further out (where they do exist) and then kill them when they take a cow or a sheep. Hunters get mad if they kill a deer (because they argue, there’s less deer for them to hunt). They can’t win.

      Reply
  4. I don’t understand why there would be a fierce opposition (“anti-wolf” attitudes) to uniformly protecting wolves. Then again, I am not well-informed about this issue. You had mentioned that reasons include old “European colonialism, folktales, and misinformation”. For there to be a still-persistent opposition, it seems like there would be more practical reasons as well. Do wolves threaten certain livelihoods, or how those livelihoods are carried out?

     

    Reply
    • Wolves do not pose any real threat to anyone’s livelihood. Yes some ranchers experience loses. There are practical steps they can take to mitigate these. Wolves they mess with livestock are often given the green light by state officials to be killed. In the US, wolves kill less that 0.01% of livestock. Interestingly, almost no attention it paid to livestock killed by other predators likes bears or cougars.

      Reply

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