Gray Wolf Management
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, and most recently a group of wolves, have been migrating into Colorado periodically for several years now. It is possible that wolves from the south may do so someday as well.
Researchers say dispersing wolves—especially single male wolves—can travel long distances. 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.
Wolves in Colorado: Who has Authority?
Colorado Parks and Wildlife is not currently responsible for managing wolves in Colorado, wolves are still protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) in Colorado. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for the management of all species listed under the ESA. If wolf populations are established in Colorado, via natural dispersal into the state or intentionally reintroduced, they would remain managed by the Federal government until/unless wolves are delisted in the state. The federal government has proposed delisting gray wolves in Colorado and elsewhere, but a decision has not yet been made. With regard to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), CPW did not conduct a NEPA analysis because CPW is not subject to NEPA – only federal agencies are.
One common misconception is that if a ballot initiative passes to reintroduce wolves, CPW will assume immediate management control of the species. As long as the gray wolf remains a species listed under the Endangered Species Act in Colorado, CPW has no management authority, which is not always clear in the current conversations around this topic.
A broad-based agreement on how CPW would manage the species via natural migration resulted from a wolf management working group CPW convened in 2004. An introduction or reintroduction of any ESA-listed species into the state must be approved by the Colorado Legislature. In 2016, the Parks and Wildlife Commission considered the issue of wolf reintroduction and affirmed the recommendations from the working group, which supports the presence of wolves in Colorado, with conditions, and via natural migration into the state not through intentional reintroduction.
Where would 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.
Wolf Sighting and Confirmations
There are indications of wolves in the state. We typically field 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.
In the summer of 2019 a wolf from the Snake River Pack (a pack in Wyoming) was located in Jackson County, Colorado. Over the past decade we have confirmed or have had probable wolf dispersals that occurred in 2004, 2006, 2009, and 2015. We received a report in January 2020 of six large canids that were seen near the Wyoming and Utah borders. CPW staff went into the field to investigate the report, and were able to locate and visually confirm the presence of the pack.
Whenever there are reports of wolves in Colorado we work closely with our federal partners to investigate for validity.
Think you’ve seen a wolf in Colorado?
Help biologists by filling out the Wolf Sighting Form
Reminder of the Colorado Fair Campaign Practices Act
Colorado's Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA) prohibits the use of public resources to support or oppose a ballot issue. CPW employees are not allowed to use any regular work hours, facilities, agency communication equipment, materials or supplies to promote or defeat a ballot issue. Employees are allowed to use their personal time to urge electors to vote for or against an election issue or to make contributions of their own money. The overview of the Department of Natural Resources permissible and impermissible activities for employees provides guidance.