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Gray Wolf

Grey wolf. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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 is now gone from Colorado. The last ones were killed by about 1940. 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 decimated 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.

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. An example of a species extirpated in Colorado is the gray wolf. Although gray wolves no longer exist in the wilds of Colorado, they can be found in captivity in zoos and wildlife parks.

Gray Wolf Management

Wolf, credit Loyse HinkleColorado 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) has restored gray wolves into Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and Arizona, and some observers believe it's only a matter of time before wolves start migrating into Colorado from the north and south.

Researchers say dispersing wolves—especially single male wolves—can travel long distances. To prepare for any future wolf migrations into Colorado, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) has set up a multi-disciplinary work group that drafted a Wolf Management Plan. The wolf working group's recommendations were adopted in their entirety by the Colorado Wildlife Commission at their May 2005 meeting.

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 US 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.

Probable Wolf Sighting

On February 16, 2007 district wildlife managers with the CPW captured a brief video of a suspected wolf about 10 miles south of the Colorado-Wyoming border north of Walden. Biologists and wolf specialists say the animal seen on tape looks and behaves like a wolf.

Think you’ve seen a wolf in Colorado?

Help biologists by filling out the Wolf Sighting Form.