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Living with Wolves
Living with Wolves
 
A trail camera night photo of a wolf looking off to the side.

Until 2020, wolves were last known to live in Colorado in the 1940s, when the species was extirpated from the state. Over the years, sighting reports have come into Colorado Parks and Wildlife from our residents and visitors, and we have diligently worked to confirm credible sightings in the state. A group of six wolves reported in northwest Colorado was confirmed by CPW staff in January 2020. Confirmation came via staff ground sightings, tracks, and scat in the area originally reported along with game camera images throughout the year. 

With wolves having been introduced into neighboring states, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has long been preparing for their migration into the state. With the passing of Proposition 114, CPW will now work with the Parks and Wildlife Commission and stakeholders statewide to begin planning for the introduction of additional wolves to the landscape.

Frequently Asked Questions About Wolves in Colorado

While the plan is being developed, below you will find some questions we frequently receive regarding living with wolves in Colorado. Wolves are elusive, even to wildlife officers and biologists, but there are some things you should know about living with wolves. 

How can people identify wolves?

Wolves are bigger, stockier and have a longer tail than other canids (e.g., foxes and coyotes).

Despite their name, gray wolves may be white, tawny gray or black, or any combination of those colors. Approximately half of any gray wolf population actually is gray. Adult male gray wolves typically weigh between 90 and 110 pounds, and may exceed 5 feet in length from nose to tail tip. Adult females typically weigh between 80 and 90 pounds and can be 5 feet long.

Pups are born with black spots on the upper outside of their tails, which may fade with age. Young wolves may resemble coyotes or some larger domestic dogs. However, wolves can be distinguished from most coyotes and dogs by their longer legs, larger feet, wider head and snout, shorter ears, narrow body and straight tail. Coyotes are 1.5 feet tall, and 4 feet long, weighing between 20-50 pounds.

  • Wolf heads/faces are broader, and ears are rounder than the coyote’s narrower face and tail, and pointed ears.

  • Apparent sightings of wolf tracks often are a case of mistaken identity. Dog and coyote paw prints can be mistaken for wolf tracks. Adult wolf prints are larger than dog and coyote prints. An average-sized wolf makes a track about 5 inches long (without claws) and 3 to 4 ½ inches wide. Coyotes are considerably smaller and narrower.

  • Although some dog breeds can have tracks greater than 4 inches in length, in general, if a 4-inch or greater canid track is observed, the probability that it may be a wolf is increased. Due to some overlap in size or the substrate the track was made in, tracks identification can be challenging. It is recommended to follow the tracks out, if possible, to obtain additional measurements, to look for other signs that may be in the area, and to identify the general travel path as wolves tend to travel in a straight line whereas domestic dogs tend to weave more.

What should I do if I see a wolf in Colorado?

Please report all sightings to Colorado Parks and Wildlife using our wolf sighting form.

To ensure the most credible information, please try to provide a photo or video, provide exact location coordinates or other detailed information for confirmation purposes.

What is a wolf pack?

The wolf pack is an extended family unit that includes a dominant male and female. In each pack, there is usually only one breeding pair, preventing subordinate adults from mating by physically harassing them. Thus, most packs produce only one litter of four to six pups each year. A pack typically includes the breeding pair, the young wolves born that year, perhaps last year’s young and sometimes a few older wolves that may or may not be related to the breeding pair.

Are wolves a threat to humans, in particular small children?

Aggressive behavior from wild wolves towards humans is rare. Mark McNay of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game compiled information about documented wolf-human encounters in “A Case History of Wolf-Human Encounters in Alaska and Canada” which was published in 2002. There are 59,000 to 70,000 gray wolves in Alaska and Canada, and since 1970 there were 16 cases of non-rabid wolves biting people. Six of those cases were severe. Since that report was written, wolves killed a man in Saskatchewan, Canada in 2005. In 2010, a woman jogging outside a remote village in Alaska was killed by wolves. In both instances, habituation to humans was a key factor in the deaths.

Generally, wild wolves are shy of people and avoid contact with them whenever possible. However, any wild animal can be dangerous if it is cornered, injured or sick, or has become habituated to people through activities such as artificial feeding. People should avoid actions that encourage wolves to spend time near people or become dependent on them for food.

The gray wolf remains listed as endangered in Colorado regardless of the federal designation. State law allows for the protection of human safety if there is an immediate threat from any endangered or threatened species. However, these situations are extremely rare and would be thoroughly investigated. Additionally, although rare, state and federal land management agencies can remove or kill a wolf that presents a demonstrable, non-immediate threat to human safety.

Are wolves known to eat pets? What about backyard farm animals, like alpacas and chickens?

Wolves are predators, and generally feed on ungulates in the wild. However, wolves are opportunistic hunters and may kill pets and other farm animals such as alpacas and chickens. In general, techniques used to reduce depredation risk on private property from other predators may also be effective at minimizing risks associated with possible wolf depredations.

How are wolves managed in Colorado?

Visit our Wolf Management page for additional information about species management in the state.



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