The gray wolf ranges across Eurasia and in North America, from the Arctic to Mexico and from coast to coast. Once distributed statewide, the gray wolf had long been extirpated from the state, with wolves deemed to be off of the landscape by about 1940. Colorado has seen lone wolves travel in and out of the state over the past few decades with a lone wolf taking up residence in the state in July 2019. This lone male was collared as part of Wyoming Game and Fish monitoring efforts. This male has remained in the state since. In 2020, a pack of wolves was identified in the Northwest part of the state.
Sometimes called "timber wolves" (to distinguish it from the coyote, or "prairie wolf"), wolves occupy a wide range of habitats. Wolves once fed on Colorado's vast herds of bison, elk and deer, supplemented by rabbits, rodents and carrion.
When market hunters overhunted the large mammals that constituted wolves' staple diet, wolves naturally turned to a new food resource in the developing frontier: livestock. Because of their depredations of domestic animals, wolves in Colorado were systematically eradicated by shooting, trapping and poisoning.
With reintroduced populations becoming sustainable across the United States, including Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, many wildlife professionals believed it was only a matter of time before the wolf naturally migrated back to Colorado. In addition to the lone male wolf detected in July 2019, Colorado Parks and Wildlife was able to confirm the presence of a pack of wolves living in the northwest corner of the state in January of 2020. However, the gray wolf is currently listed as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act. They are under the management authority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Appearance: Wolves are large dogs, up to five feet long (14 inches of which is a bushy tail). Their coloring is pale gray, washed with buff and overlain on the back and legs with black.
Habitat and Young: Wolves den in burrows in banks where the female bears six to 10 pups in March after a nine-week gestation period. The male provides food for the nursing mother. A pair may have a hunting territory of 10 square miles.
Proposals have been made to restore wolves to wilderness ecosystems of Colorado, where they could provide a natural check on populations of elk, for example. The suggestions have met with considerable opposition from some ranchers .
What is an Extirpated Species? An extirpated species is an animal that no longer exists in the wild in its historical habitat, but still exists elsewhere. Wolves used to be an example of a species extirpated in Colorado, however as recently as 2019 a pack has started living in the northwest corner of the state.
Mexican Wolf (Canis lupus baileyi)
The Mexican wolf is a distinct subspecies of wolf. It is listed as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Therefore, it is under the management authority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The historic range of the Mexican wolf includes New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico. Wolves are capable of traveling long distances, and although solitary Mexican wolves may occasionally have explored the state, there is no evidence that populations of the subspecies ever resided in Colorado.
The USFWS has recently changed the boundaries for the experimental population area extending it from Highway 40 (and east-west highway between Albuquerque and Flagstaff) south to the Mexican border.
Press releases and FAQs on the USFWS's recent actions regarding Mexican wolves are available at the provided links.