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Wolves in Colorado FAQ
Wolves in Colorado FAQ
Gray Wolf (c) Jimdarby8 | Dreamstime.com

​​​​​​​​​​​​Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff have worked across areas of expertise, scientific backgrounds and partner agencies to prepare this FAQ page in response to significant public outreach. This page will be updated and expanded as the agency works through the reintroduction and public involvement process.

Proposition 114 - now state statute 33-2-105.8 - directs the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to develop a plan to restore and manage gray wolves in Colorado no later than December 31, 2023. The statute indicates the wolves are to be released onto the Western Slope of Colorado.

Gray Wolf Listing Status

On Feb. 10, 2022, the U.S. 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 USFWS. Colorado Parks and Wildlife will continue its planning efforts to meet the deadlines directed by state statute to restore and manage gray wolves in Colorado no later than Dec. 31, 2023. The reintroduction planning will now require a close partnership with our USFWS partners and our management plans will be subject to federal approval.


Why is CPW reintroducing wolves into Colorado?

On November 3, 2020, Proposition 114 approved by Colorado voters - now state statute 33-2-105.8 - directed the Parks and Wildlife Commission to “develop a plan to restore and manage gray wolves in Colorado, using the best scientific data available” and “hold statewide hearings to acquire information to be considered in developing such plan, including scientific, economic, and social considerations pertaining to such restoration.” The voter approved statute directed the Parks and Wildlife Commission to take the steps necessary to begin restoration of gray wolves in Colorado west of the Continental Divide no later than December 31, 2023.

Where does the wolf reintroduction effort currently stand?

CPW has worked with Keystone Policy Center to hold public meetings, collecting feedback from more than 3,400 Coloradans. Additionally, CPW appointed two advisory bodies: a Technical Working Group (TWG) (contributes expertise towards the development of conservation objectives, management strategies, and damage prevention and compensation planning) and a Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG) to provide recommendations to staff as they drafted a wolf reintroduction plan. CPW presented the draft plan to the Parks and Wildlife Commission on December 9, 2022.

 

Background Information on Gray Wolves

  • On October 29, 2020, the Department of the Interior announced a rule to delist the gray wolf from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. The rule was published in the Federal Register on November 3, 2020 and took effect on January 4, 2021, transferring management authority over the gray wolf in Colorado from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to CPW.

    On February 10, 2022, the U.S. 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 USFWS. Colorado Parks and Wildlife will continue its planning efforts to meet the deadlines directed by statute to restore and manage gray wolves in Colorado no later than Dec. 31, 2023.

    When a species is listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, as the gray wolf currently is in Colorado, management authority sits with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), not with CPW.

    To assist the state of Colorado in their reintroduction of gray wolves into the state, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is initiating the process (10j) to develop an experimental population rule to provide the authority and flexibility needed to manage the reintroduced wolves under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

    For more information on the 10j process and public meetings in August 2022, see the USFWS press release.


Draft Planning Process​

What is the goal of theDraft Colorado Wolf Restoration and Management Plan?

The primary goal of the draft plan is to identify the steps needed to recover and maintain a viable, self-sustaining wolf population in Colorado, while concurrently working to minimize wolf-related conflicts with domestic animals, other wildlife, and people.

Did the advisory groups play a role in developing the Plan?

Input from the Stakeholder Advisory Group and the Technical Working Group was instrumental in developing a science-based plan that incorporated important social considerations.

When and where can the public comment on the draft reintroduction plan?

A comment form specific to the draft plan will be posted on the CPW website and at engageCPW.org beginning December 9 through February 22, 2023. Between January 19 and February 22, five statewide hearings (4 in-person, 1 virtual) will be held to acquire information from the public to be considered in developing the final plan. Additional information on meeting times and locations can be found here

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Restoration Logistics

How many wolves are being introduced? Where will they be sourced from?

It is anticipated that wolf reintroduction efforts will require the transfer of about 30 to 50 wolves in total over a 3-5 year time frame. It is desirable to source wolves from the northern Rockies states (Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming) or other suitable donor sites (Oregon, Washington, as recommended by the TWG) with assistance from other state wildlife management agencies. Based on the TWG recommendations, CPW will aim to capture 10-15 wild wolves annually from several different packs over the course of 3—5 years by trapping, darting, or net gunning in the fall and winter.)

Where are wolves being reintroduced into Colorado?

State statute requires that wolves be released only west of the Continental Divide. Scientists found that wolves released in Yellowstone and central Idaho in the mid 1990’s moved substantial distances in the months immediately after release (average distance was approximately 50 miles ranging from approximately 22 to 140 miles from the release sites). Because of this, releases in Colorado will occur a minimum of 60 miles from the northern border with Wyoming, the western border with Utah, the southern border of New Mexico, as well as a similar buffer, as requested by the Tribes, of sovereign tribal lands in southwestern Colorado. A map of areas where reintroduction is being considered can be found here.

Will CPW be tracking wolves in Colorado?

CPW will implement a thorough post-release monitoring program to assess and modify reintroduction protocols if necessary to ensure the highest probability of survival and site retention for released animals. All released wolves will be monitored using satellite GPS collars, which will inform managers on survival and dispersal, as well as future release protocols. As packs establish, effort will be made to collar at least one member of each pack with emphasis on breeding adults. The desired standard will be to have two collars in each pack; whether this is achievable for every pack in the state will be determined following reintroduction.

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Wolves in Colorado

What is the history of wolves in Colorado

Gray wolves historically inhabited most of Colorado, but were extirpated. The last known resident wolves in Colorado were in the 1940s until the most recent discovery of a wolf pack that migrated into Colorado. CPW typically fields around 100 sighting reports each year. However, wolf reports are typically not considered reliable without strong supporting evidence. Confirmed or probable wolf dispersals into Colorado have occurred in 2004, 2007, 2009, 2015, 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Has CPW had prior reports of wolves in Colorado?

Yes, as well as evidence of occasional dispersers. We typically field around 100 sightings per year. However, wolf reports are typically not considered reliable without strong supporting evidence. Confirmed or probable wolf dispersals into Colorado have occurred in 2004, 2007, 2009, 2015, 2019, 2020 and 2021.

When CPW receives credible reports of wolves in Colorado we work closely with our federal partners to investigate them. We will continue to work with USFWS and other state, local and NGO partners in sharing information regarding verified sightings with the public.

How many wolves are in the state today?

Colorado Parks and Wildlife cannot provide a specific population number for wolves in Colorado. As many as six congregating wolves were identified by CPW staff in 2020, and in 2021, an established mating pair produced a litter of six pups. That does not mean these animals present a definitive number of animals on the ground in the state.

  • Collared wolf F1084 from the Snake River Pack in Wyoming was initially detected in north-central Colorado in 2019.
  • In January of 2020, CPW confirmed the presence of at least six wolves in northern Moffat County. The current location/status of these wolves is not known.
  • In January of 2021, CPW confirmed the presence of another wolf traveling with known wolf, F1084.
  • In June 2021 through the present, six pups from F1084 and 2101 have been observed by staff, who continue to monitor this pack.

Where do most wolves that disperse into Colorado originate?

Most dispersal into Colorado is believed to have originated from the Greater Yellowstone Area, which is part of the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf population. However, it is often difficult to determine a dispersing animal’s specific point of origin with certainty as only a small portion of the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf population is marked or fitted with telemetry collars.

Where will new wolves come from?

The potential source populations of introduced wolves is not yet known; this information will be included in the overall introduction and management plan being developed as called for by state statute 33-2-105.

A wolf restoration logistics report presented by the Technical Working Group to the Parks and Wildlife Commission in November 2021 provides considerations for a preferred donor population from a mix of Northern Rocky Mountain states (Idaho, Montana, Wyoming). The final plan will include information on the eventual donor population.

How will wolf populations be monitored?

A variety of tools could be used to monitor wolves including collared animals, cameras, howling surveys and other techniques. Monitoring plans will be included in the overall introduction and management plan being developed in concordance with statute 33-2-105.

Can you provide a report listing all confirmed sightings in Colorado the last 15 years?

Below is a list of confirmed wolves in the state since 2004.

​Date
​Location
​Origin
​Sex
​Color
​Outcome
​06/07/2004
​Near Idaho Springs, CO
​Unknown
​Female
​Gray

Found by side of I-70 deceased.


​02/16/2007

​North Park, CO
​​Unknown
​​Unknown
​Black
​Video taken by Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) staff.
​02/2009

​North of Rifle, CO
​Montana, Mill Creek 314F
​Female
​Gray
Presumed poisoned​.
​04/2015

​North Park, CO
​Wyoming, 935M
​Male
​Black
​Trail camera and radio collar data.
04/29/2015

​Kremmling, CO
​​Unknown
​Male
​Gray
Shot by legal coyote hunter​.
​11/12/2018​

​Divide, CO
​Colorado Wolf and WIldlife Center
​Male
​Mexican Wolf
​Captive raised wolf escaped from facility near Divide, CO. Animal was recaptured.
​07/08/2019

​North Park, CO
​Wyoming, F1084, Snake River Pack
​Male
​Black
​Wolf was photographed in North Park, CO.
​01/06/2020

​Moffat County
​Unknown
​Group of approximately six
​N/A
Scavenged elk carcass and prints reported. Genetic analysis of scat is conducted. CPW staff later saw this group of at least six animals.​
​01/19/2021

​Jackson County
​Unknown
Male
​Gray
Visually confirmed and collared by CPW staff. Wolf now identified as 2101.
​06/04/2021

Jackson County Colorado
​Unknown
Group of approximately three
​varied
Visual confirmation of six pups with F1084 and 2101 by CPW staff.


Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Position/Role in Wolf Management 

Does CPW want wolves in the state?

It is not a question of “want” or “don’t want.” We have long anticipated that gray wolves would eventually enter the state as some have already, and we have been prepared for their arrival. With Colorado voters electing to reintroduce additional wolves to the state, our team of biologists, researchers, wildlife officers and other staff will work with stakeholders statewide to create a plan that provides the best chance for the species to thrive in Colorado. This planning will factor in the best available science regarding habitat, prey availability, and will include input from the public and key stakeholders.

How will CPW manage wolf populations? Is there a wolf population objective?

Wolves will be managed within Colorado using a phased approach, based on the minimum number of animals known to be present in the state. These phases will correspond with the status of the species on the Colorado Threatened and Endangered Species list. There is no wolf population objective in the current draft plan.

As proposed in the draft plan, wolves will be downlisted from State Endangered (Phase 1) to State Threatened (Phase 2) when CPW biologists document a minimum wintertime count of 50 wolves anywhere in the state for four successive years. Wolves will be delisted from the State Threatened and Endangered species list and classified as delisted, nongame (Phase 3) when a minimum count of at least 150 wolves anywhere in Colorado is observed for 2 successive years, or a minimum count of at least 200 wolves anywhere in Colorado is observed, with no temporal requirement. Population requirements for Phase 4 are unknown at this time, a recommendation of classification of wolves as a game species is outside the scope of this plan.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is analyzing the alternatives related to designating the wolf population in Colorado as “Experimental” which would relax the take prohibitions. As a federally listed species, there is a strict prohibition against regulated hunting and other forms of take.

Who will pay for the reintroduction? How would it impact Colorado Parks and Wildlife budgets?

The Legislature passed HB21-1243 in 2021, which requires the general assembly to appropriate money to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and authorizes the division's expenditure of money from one or more of the following funds:

  • The general fund;
  • The species conservation trust fund;
  • The Colorado nongame conservation and wildlife restoration cash fund; or
  • The wildlife cash fund; except for any money generated from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses or from associated federal grants. This money within the wildlife cash fund is not available for appropriation.

The division is also authorized to solicit, accept, and expend any grants, gifts, sponsorships, contributions, donations, and bequests, including federal funds, for the program.

Once wolves are introduced, fair compensation for livestock losses as called for in state statute are to be borne by CPW’s wildlife cash fund not derived from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses or from associated federal grants, unless it cannot pay for such expenses. (Funding is discussed in the Joint Budget Committee briefing document).

As naturally depredating wolves have settled into Jackson County, any depredation loss that occurs prior to the final management plan’s compensation structure will be paid out according to CPW’s existing Game Damage program.

There will be funding and staffing impacts to CPW to bring additional wolves into the state. A more precise understanding of what this would look like will be apparent after a management plan is developed.

What is the possibility of the Colorado General Fund being used for reintroduction?

HB21-1243 appropriates General Fund dollars to support gray wolf reintroduction as directed by state statute 33-2-105.8. $1.1 million was appropriated for FY 21-22. HB22-1329 increased this amount to $2.1 million for FY 22-23.

What other steps will need to happen for a reintroduction to take place and how long will they take?

State statute 33-2-105.8 directs the CPW Commission to “take the steps necessary to begin reintroduction of gray wolves no later than December 31, 2023...” It’s expected that the draft wolf management plan will be presented by CPW staff to the CPW Commission in December 2022. This will be followed by additional public comment. Once the US Fish and Wildlife Service and CPW Commission approve the final plan, the actual releasing of wolves will occur at a to-be-determined date.

When a species is listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, as the gray wolf currently is in Colorado, management authority sits with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), not with CPW. As a result, USFWS is developing a rule to designate a gray wolf experimental population under Section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act, which is a parallel process to CPW’s effort to develop a Wolf Restoration and Management Plan. If finalized, this “10(j) rule” would allow for greater management flexibility for gray wolves reintroduced under CPW’s final Wolf Restoration and Management Plan, so long as those management actions are still in accordance with the ultimate recovery of the species. More information regarding the 10(j) rule can be found in this USFWS fact sheet.

What number of wolves will it take for a complete reintroduction to be successful?

There is currently no recovery plan for wolves in Colorado, so there are no specified recovery goals. As the management plan is developed, these objectives for success (e.g., wolf numbers, pack numbers) will be defined.

Will the presence of wolves require more CPW regulations, and what kind of regulations will be necessary?

CPW and the CPW Commission will create or modify appropriate regulations to manage the species according to the management plan developed.

For example, in January 2022, regulations were passed to permit the use of certain hazing techniques, in part due to the presence of a known pack of naturally migrating wolves in the state. Additionally, a regulation has been passed to take effect in May 2022 that prevents the use of lures to attract wolves.

Does Proposition 114 include the possibility that Mexican gray wolves will come into the state?

We don’t believe the intent of the ballot initiative proponents was to introduce the Mexican gray wolf. The recent revision to the Mexican Wolf Recovery plan limits the geography of recovery to the area south of I-40, including Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico.

See the Perils of Recovering the Mexican Wolf Outside of its Historical Range study.


Regulations and Legal Consequences of Taking or Killing a Wolf

What are the penalties for killing a gray wolf in Colorado?

In addition to being federally protected, gray wolves are also a state endangered species in Colorado, and wolves may not be taken for any reason other than self-defense. The gray wolf in Colorado is protected by the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and state law. Penalties can vary and can include fines up to $100,000, jail time and loss of hunting privileges.

What should someone do if they accidentally kill a wolf?

Contact CPW immediately to notify them of the error.

Why wouldn’t someone just dispose of wolves on their own?

Killing a wolf is cause for a criminal investigation, punishable by fines and jail time. We strongly encourage people to be ethical and follow the law.

Will CPW respond to wolf/human conflicts?

Yes, CPW will respond as it does with other wildlife conflicts in the state (e.g., bears, mountain lions, etc.), dispatching the necessary wildlife officers to the scene.

Can landowners kill a wolf that is depredating livestock?

No. In addition to being federally protected, gray wolves are also a state endangered species in Colorado, and wolves may not be taken for any reason other than self-defense. The gray wolf in Colorado is protected by the ESA and state law. Penalties can vary and can include fines up to $100,000, jail time and loss of hunting privileges. Depredation is not a legal reason for killing a wolf. Depredation concerns must be reported to CPW for any potential removal.

Who will pay for landowner losses from wolf depredation?

State statute 33-2-105.8 directs Colorado Parks and Wildlife to “provide fair compensation for any losses of livestock caused by gray wolves”, following the Game Damage processes established in Colorado Revised Statutes Section 33-3-107 through 33-3-110.

CPW continues working with state and federal partners to review the full complement of available resources to ensure that future depredation claim processes meet the needs of Coloradans. A final wolf depredation compensation process will be part of the final Gray Wolf management plan.

CPW will handle reimbursement of depredation incidents under its current game damage process as if the depredation occurred by mountain lions or bears prior to the approval of a final Gray Wolf management plan.

Depredation compensation will not utilize revenues generated by the sale of hunting or fishing license fees. Compensation will occur via the General Fund, the Species Conservation Trust Fund, the Colorado Nongame Conservation and Wildlife Restoration Cash Funds, or other sources of funding for non-game species.

Who will be responsible for responding to damage claims/human health and safety issues and how will the costs be covered, including wages?

CPW will respond.

Once wolves become established in Colorado, will they be hunted?

If wolves have established a population greater than yet-to-be-determined thresholds, population management options will be evaluated. Ultimately, this would be determined by the CPW Commission through its approval of updates to the Wolf Restoration and Management Plan.


Wolves on the Landscape

What is considered wolf habitat?

Wolves are habitat generalists, meaning they do not have specific habitat requirements that determine where they can live. As long as prey is available, wolves can use a variety of areas.

How will wolves impact Colorado’s ungulate populations?

Wolves consume approximately 7-10 pounds of meat per day on average. In some other areas where wolves exist at a sustainable population level, there have been localized impacts to ungulate populations. Elk, moose, and deer are primary prey species for wolves. However, wolves are opportunistic hunters. Wolf populations would need to be established for an extended period before we can evaluate the extent to which they impact populations of prey species in Colorado.

I’ve heard that elk/deer herds are struggling in areas and the agency is doing a lot of research to understand why. How would wolves play into that?

Wolves would be one of many factors that may influence ungulate population dynamics. It is impossible to predict precisely how wolves would impact Colorado ungulate populations on either a local, regional or statewide scale. Mule deer populations in portions of western Colorado have declined significantly unrelated to wolves, causing concerns within CPW and its many constituencies who depend upon or enjoy mule deer. Recognizing the need for action, CPW embarked on a comprehensive public engagement effort to gather input for developing the West Slope Mule Deer Strategy to guide future management actions.

Colorado has the largest elk herd in the world. Does it matter if wolves eat a few?

The statewide elk population is stable; the 2018 estimate is 287,000. CPW has intentionally reduced some elk populations to achieve population objectives set for those herds. Currently, 22 of 42 (52 percent) elk herds are still above their current population objective ranges. However, some herds remain below the established population objective. Public perception of the desired number of elk in Colorado varies. Elk research and continued management changes such as reductions in cow elk hunting licenses are necessary since elk calf production remains low in many herds.

See more information about the status of elk populations in Colorado.

As wolves become more established on the landscape, CPW will adjust its research and management efforts to address these questions.

Are wolves more likely to increase or decrease the severity of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Colorado?

The geographic distributions of wolves and chronic wasting disease in the United States have overlapped little until fairly recently, so this interaction has not been much studied empirically. It is not possible to say with certainty the extent to which wolves will or will not reduce the prevalence of CWD in specific areas of Colorado.

Beneficial effects have been suggested by modeling, but have yet to be demonstrated. If wolves selectively killed and adequate number of CWD-infected animals, then this would help suppress the disease. We know that infected deer and elk are more vulnerable to predation (including non-human and hunting “predation”) than healthy animals. We also know that selectively culling infected deer from a herd can reduce prevalence and that “predation” (from hunting or culling) can help suppress CWD. But we don’t know whether wolves would be sufficiently abundant to measurably suppress the disease. Mountain lions selectively kill CWD-infected deer, yet their presence has not prevented increases in prevalence in some areas. Even if wolves do not selectively kill CWD-infected animals, it is possible that predation or scavenging by wolves could help reduce environmental contamination with the prion that causes CWD thus potentially reducing prevalence.

Studies have shown that passing CWD-infected elk brain tissue through the coyote digestive tract reduced the amount of prions available to cause infection. Whether wolves would also reduce the prion load in carcass tissues they consume has not been studied. Nor can we evaluate the extent to which wolves, through extensive landscape movement, could introduce prions to areas where CWD is not known to exist, and if they do, to what extent that poses a risk of increased disease distribution or prevalence.

While predation will not eliminate CWD from deer or elk populations, predators that selectively prey on infected animals would be expected to reduce the number of infections. This would be more likely in areas where wolves are well established.

While reduction of the prevalence of CWD is an important and achievable objective, we do believe that it is not feasible for CWD to be eliminated from Colorado.

If impacts to deer and elk are noticed at a high enough level, how will wolves be managed to mitigate those impacts?

All consideration for impacts to wildlife populations will help inform the range of management options for wolves in Colorado.

What impacts do wolves have on other predatory species, like lions, bears, coyotes or foxes? How common is it for wolves to prey on mountain lions/bears/coyotes in areas with high predator densities?

Wolves do have a tendency to displace other canids like coyotes and foxes, but not lions or bears.

Different combinations and densities of predator and prey species, terrain, vegetation, climate, land-ownership patterns and land uses result in different ecological relationships. It is difficult to predict how the interactions will play out. It is not common for wolves to prey on other carnivore species.

What impacts have states with wolves witnessed and how have those impacts been handled?

Other states have noted that both big game distribution and habitat use by big game animals can be impacted by wolves. Additionally:

“How much, where, and how wolves impact prey varies through space and time. Wolves like mountain lions, coyotes and bears eat deer, elk, moose, and other game animals. Research in Montana and elsewhere has shown that predation may influence deer, elk and moose populations through changes in the survival of young and adult animals or a combination of both. In Montana, elk numbers in some areas have declined, due in part to wolf predation. Yet in other areas where wolves and elk interact, elk numbers are stable or increasing. Habitat, weather patterns, human hunting, the presence of other large predators in the same area and the presence of livestock seasonally or year-round are important factors, too. Wolf predation by itself does not initiate declines in prey populations, but it can exacerbate declines or lengthen periods of prey population rebounds. Research in Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere has shown that elk use habitats differently since wolves have returned. One study showed that when wolves are in the local area, elk spend less time in open areas and more time in forested areas. However, extrapolation of this potential effect to broad landscapes should not be made. Hunters may need to adjust their strategies in areas where wolves exist.”

From Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

There have been a lot of studies about how wolves impacted ecosystems in other parts of the country. What will that look like in Colorado?

As stated above, it's difficult to extrapolate results from other studies in localized areas to presume what the impacts might be in Colorado. Many recent papers suggest that the statements of ecosystem level effects are overstated. Wolf reintroduction in Colorado will create a unique opportunity for a wealth of research on how wolves may navigate more populated areas, how the species adapts to the effects of a changing climate, and potential roles in disease control or ecological impacts on the Colorado landscape.


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