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.
Proposition 114, a ballot initiative to introduce wolves west of the continental divide, was voted on and passed by Coloradans in November 2020.
Proposition 114 - What Comes Next?
Proposition 114 - now state statute 33-2-105.8 - calling for the reintroduction of gray wolves on designated lands west of the continental divide, passed on November 3, 2020.
Statute directs 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.
As CPW finalizes its planning efforts to meet the deadlines directed by statute, reintroduction will require a close partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Our Wolves in Colorado FAQ page provides the most current information available for frequent questions on the species. and planning status.
Wolves in Colorado: Who has Authority?
In February 2022, after State Statute 33-2-105.8 became law, the USFWS vacated a prior rule delisting gray wolves. This returned the management authority of the species to the USFWS.
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 in planning efforts for reintroducing the species.
As CPW works to finalize its draft management plan, the USFWS is concurrently managing a 10(j) process that will provide management flexibility of the species in Colorado.
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 current draft plan.
As proposed in the draft plan, 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. Population requirements for Phase 4 are unknown at this time, but would allow for wolves to be classified as a game species.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is analyzing the alternatives related to designating the wolf population in Colorado as “Experimental” which would relax the take prohibitions. As a federally listed species, there is a strict prohibition against regulated hunting and other forms of take.
Where would migrating or newly introduced wolves come from?
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.
The management plan will determine where and from which packs any new wolves being introduced will come from; this will be finalized with partnering state and federal agencies.
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.
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
There are known wolves already in the state.
Over the past decade, we have confirmed or have had probable wolf dispersals that occurred in 2004, 2006, 2009, and 2015.
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, though recent activity has been limited.
Most recently, agency staff placed GPS tracking collars on wolves in the north-central part of the state. 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. In February 2022, one of these pups was fitted with a GPS collar. While these collars are no longer active, sightings by staff confirm some animals remain in the area at the time of this update.
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