Wolves have never felt welcome in our state of Colorado. In 1869, Colorado’s legislature authorized a 50-cent bounty on wolf scalps. In 1905, the Forest Service hired wolf trappers in Colorado in order to bring favor to ranchers. In 1915, Congress set funds aside for wolf extermination all throughout the West. By the late-1920s, federal trappers and poisoners had eliminated all known wolf packs in Colorado. Finally, in 1945, a Fish and Wildlife Service trapper killed the last lone wolf in Conejos County.
In 1973, the Endangered Species Act was passed. However the Colorado Wildlife Comission did not want to move forward with reintroduction. Several decades later, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and slowly began moving into northwest Colorado. Evidence of this was found in 2004 when a wolf was struck and killed by a vehicle on Interstate 70. Additional incidences were found by poisoning, and shooting the wolves. There have been many probable wolf sightings since, most found in northwest Colorado, even with pups found in Jackson County in 2021. There are two male wolves that have been confirmed to be in northwest Colorado.
Things changed in 2020 when voters approved Proposition 114 to reintroduce wolves. Colorado Parks and Wildlife have since finalized a wolf restoration and management plan.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its final environmental impact statement for Colorado Parks and Wildlife to begin reintroducing endangered gray wolves.
If this decision is finalized, it includes allowable killing of wolves that prey on livestock, but it includes no requirement to take preventative measures for livestock owners. This final statement also limits the killing of wolves in response to “unacceptable impacts” to animals such as deer and elk to tribal lands — as opposed to an earlier version of the draft which would have allowed killings anywhere in the state.
“When the first wolf bolts out of a portable kennel into western Colorado’s cornucopia of elk and deer, it will start to right the wrong of federal wolf extermination a century ago,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “After clinking our glasses in a toast to the wolves in their new home, we’ll closely monitor wolf management to ensure the budding population is allowed to thrive without persecution.”
The Center for Biological Diversity pointed out that failing to require livestock owners to undertake preventative measures incentivizes poor husbandry and opens the door to chronic conflicts and associated killings of wolves. Such preventative measures would include removing carcasses of non-wolf-killed livestock before wolves scavenge on the carrion in the midst of herds that may be sickly.
“The state wolf plan and this new federal authorization will probably need to be revised before too long to truly protect both wolves and livestock by mandating non-lethal prevention,” said Robinson.