Proposition 114 - state statute 33-2-105.8 - called for the reintroduction of gray wolves on designated lands west of the Continental Divide.
Statute directed the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to:
Develop a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves in Colorado no later than December 31, 2023, on designated lands west of the Continental Divide;
Hold statewide hearings about scientific, economic, and social considerations;
Periodically obtain public input to update the plan; and
Use state funds to assist livestock owners in preventing conflicts with gray wolves and pay fair compensation for livestock losses.
The Parks and Wildlife Commission passed the Final Colorado Wolf Restoration and Management Plan on May 3, 2023. Between December 18 - 22, 2023, Colorado Parks and Wildlife wildlife experts released 10 gray wolves onto public land in Summit and Grand counties.
Our Wolves in Colorado FAQ page provides the most current information available for frequent questions on the species and restoration status.
Wolves in Colorado: Who has Authority?
CPW has been in communication with USFWS regarding wolf management from the outset of this restoration and management planning effort. In fact, USFWS was represented on the Technical Working Group that was assembled by CPW during the planning efforts for reintroducing the species.
In 2023, CPW finalized its wolf restoration and management plan and the USFWS finalized its 10(j) process, designating Colorado wolves as a nonessential experimental species, providing management flexibility of the species in Colorado to CPW.
How will CPW manage wolf populations? Is there a wolf population objective?
Wolves will be managed within Colorado using a phased approach based on the minimum number of animals known to be present in the state. These phases will correspond with the status of the species on the Colorado Threatened and Endangered Species list. There is no wolf population objective in the final management and restoration plan.
Currently, wolves are State Endangered. Wolves will be downlisted from State Endangered (Phase 1) to State Threatened (Phase 2) when CPW biologists document a minimum wintertime count of 50 wolves anywhere in the state for four successive years. Wolves will be delisted from the State Threatened and Endangered species list and classified as delisted, nongame (Phase 3) when a minimum count of at least 150 wolves anywhere in Colorado is observed for 2 successive years, or a minimum count of at least 200 wolves anywhere in Colorado is observed, with no temporal requirement.
At the time future Commissions are considering delisting, CPW will conduct a Population Viability Analysis, or similar population modeling effort. This would be done to assess the extinction probability of the wolf population in Colorado, using Colorado-specific demographic parameters gained from research and monitoring the population in the state in the years between reintroduction and recovery.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated the wolf population in Colorado as “Experimental” which relaxes take prohibitions. As a federally listed species, there is a strict prohibition against regulated hunting and other forms of take.
Where will wolves come from?
Wolf reintroduction efforts will require the transfer of about 30 to 50 wolves in total over a time frame of three to five years. Wolves are preferably sourced from the northern Rockies states, as recommended by the Technical Working Group (TWG). Assistance from other state wildlife management agencies or other entities, such as tribes, was also recommended. Based on the TWG recommendations, CPW will aim to capture 10 to 15 wild wolves each year from several different packs over the course of three to five years by trapping, darting, or net gunning in the fall and winter. Once captured, wolves will be treated and vaccinated as appropriate and determined by veterinarians, and will then be transported to Colorado, where they will be taken to the release areas and the transport crates will be opened.
Will CPW be tracking wolves in Colorado?
CPW will implement a thorough post-release monitoring program to assess and modify reintroduction protocols, if necessary, to ensure the highest probability of survival and site retention for released animals. All released wolves will be monitored using satellite GPS collars, which will inform managers on survival and dispersal, as well as future release protocols. As packs establish, effort will be made to collar at least one member of each pack with emphasis on breeding adults. The desired standard will be to have two collars in each pack; whether this is achievable for every pack in the state will be determined following reintroduction.
To protect the wolves that CPW reintroduces, GPS data will not be made publicly available. As wolves migrate into different parts of the state, wildlife managers will be notified that wolves may be in the area. Over time, as wolf populations become established, CPW will develop ‘territory’ maps showing which areas each wolf pack is primarily inhabiting.
Will reintroduced wolves migrate to other areas of the state?
Yes. As wolf population numbers grow, some wolves will migrate to establish new territories. Wolves are habitat generalists, meaning they do not have specific habitat requirements that determine where they can live. As long as prey is available, wolves can use a variety of areas. It is anticipated that wolves will expand widely over time, including to the Front Range of Colorado.
Wolf Sighting and Confirmations
Prior to reintroduction efforts, there were known wolves already in the state. In addition to the 10 wolves released in Grand and Summit counties between December 18-22, 2023, CPW has had confirmed or probable wolf dispersals that occurred in 2004, 2006, 2009, 2015, and 2019-2021; these most recent sightings are detailed below.
Colorado is part of the gray wolf’s native range, but wolves were eradicated by the 1940s. Over the past decade, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) restored gray wolves in 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. Wolves from the south may do so someday as well.
In the summer of 2019, a wolf from the Snake River Pack (a pack in Wyoming) was located in Jackson County, Colorado.
We received a report in January 2020 of six large canids that were seen near the Wyoming and Utah borders. CPW staff were able to locate and visually confirm the presence of the pack. Staff later received additional sighting reports and photos of wolves in this area.
A male wolf's presence was confirmed in late January 2021 when it was seen with the wolf from the Snake River pack. In June 2021, staff observed pups with this pair, becoming the first documented breeding pair in the state in several decades.
CPW typically fields around 100 sightings each year. When confirmed sightings occur, the number of additional reports spike. However, wolf reports are typically not considered reliable without strong supporting evidence.
Think you’ve seen a wolf in Colorado?
Contact your local CPW office and talk to a district wildlife manager.
Wolf Management Resources