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, including two wolves that have since mated and produced pups in Jackson County, have been periodically migrating into Colorado. It is possible that wolves from the south may do so someday as well.
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, and affirmed by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission in 2016.
Proposition 114, a ballot initiative to introduce wolves west of the continental divide, was voted on and passed by Coloradans in November 2020.
Wolves in Colorado: Who has Authority?
On Thursday, February 10th, 2022, the United States District Court vacated the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s (USFWS) 2020 rule delisting gray wolves across the lower 48 states. The ruling returns management authority of gray wolves in Colorado to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) has been in communication with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) regarding wolf management from the outset of this restoration and management planning effort. In fact, USFWS is represented on the Technical Working Group that has been assembled by CPW in planning efforts for reintroducing the species.
A recent letter from the USFWS
provides parameters for the implications of this decision at this stage of Colorado’s gray wolf reintroduction process.
Until 2021, the gray wolf had been protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) in Colorado since 1974. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) published a rule to delist the species nationwide on November 3, 2020
, which returned management control of the species to state and tribal wildlife agencies, including CPW, on January 4, 2021. The February 2022 ruling noted above vacated this rule.
Proposition 114 - What Comes Next?
Proposition 114 - now state statute 33-2-105.8 - directs the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to develop a plan to introduce gray wolves onto the Western Slope of Colorado, 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.
At its January 2021 meeting the Parks and Wildlife Commission provided CPW staff with guidance to begin creating a robust, adaptive management plan to reintroduce wolves in Colorado no later than Dec. 31, 2023.
While CPW will continue its planning efforts to meet the deadlines directed by statute, reintroduction will require close partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and will be subject to their approval. Their permitting requirements and processes will need to be followed as they now have management control of the species in Colorado.
Our Wolves in Colorado FAQ page provides the most current information available on the species and planning status.
As hearings and public input opportunities are planned, CPW will communicate information about how to participate through our website, social media channels, and eNews newsletters.
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 plan being developed as a result of Proposition 114 will determine where and from which packs any new wolves being introduced will come from; this will be determined with partnering state and federal agencies.
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 have since received additional sighting reports and photos of wolves in this area.
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.
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.
Think you’ve seen a wolf in Colorado?
Help biologists by filling out the Wolf Sighting Form
Wolf Management Resources